I had the opportunity recently to take my last vacation of my Peace Corps career in Moldova and to share it with two other Peace Corps Volunteers. We traveled to Brasov, Romania, which was truly incredible. This was my second time traveling in Romania and I was impressed with the beauty of the country, and how different in appearance, but seemingly (on the surface) similar in substance to Moldova.
We took an overnight bus from Moldova to Brasov, and arrived in Brasov around 4a in the morning. When we got in our bus driver woke us from our slightly sweaty, bus dozing and told us – get off here.
We found ourselves on the side of the road and everything was dark except for the gas station coffee shop next to us, so we went in. We sat there for two and a half hours sipping coffee, laughing and joking, reveling in the slightly exhausted goofiness that lack of sleep,caffeine and being with good friends can provide.
Another girl from our bus also got off and chose the same strategy of waiting for the sun to rise in the coffee shop. She was very thin, I’d noticed her on the bus, and she spent the more then two hours we were there nursing the same coffee, a series of cigarettes, and leaving her small croissant untouched – in true Modloveanca (the name given to the fashionable, image obsessed girls of Moldova) fashion.
Around 6:30 we saw the local buses beginning to run and decided to head out in search of our hotel. About the time we got a few meters from the cafe the skies opened and it started pouring rain.
We ran across the street and then down the street, finally making it to the bus stop, where after a few tries we figured out which bus was supposed to take us to the hotel. Once we talked to a few youth on the bus who were headed to school and were befuddled by these Americans and their large backpacks speaking Romanian, they directed us to which stop to get off at.
We found our hotel, but it was locked. (It was actually an apartment style hotel.) So, yet again we were stranded outside in the rain. We quickly made our way down the street to another coffee shop, where we sought cover and more caffeine as we looked for the hotel number and called the hotel.
The gentleman who answered the phone seemed somewhat confused as to why we were calling him. When we arrived we discovered that we had in fact made a reservation for the following week. Luckily he is a lovely guy and gave us an amazing room, for tonight and tomorrow, for an even cheaper price than I had reserved for online.
This all occurred before 9a, so we realized that we could easily make the free 10a tour from the center of town. The tour, exploring and enjoying some Jamaican food for lunch took up most of the rest of the day. Finally around 5 we took a seat for some tea and began to plan the rest of our trip, mainly our trip to Rasnov fortress, Bran and Peles castle and a session at a local Escape the Room place.
After making our plans, we decided to head to a grocery store to buy some water, beer, oranges and popcorn, so we can have a small dinner in the room and relax, since we were exhausted.
We headed up the street to a small grocery store that seems to employ similar customer service and practices to a Moldovan one (ie you need them and their products, they do not need you, the customer); and again I am confronted by how far and yet how close Romania is to Moldova. (Romania is beautiful and clean and seems in so many ways from the outside like a European country, however in certain things like drinkable water and customer service, they are more similar than different to Moldova. )
So after some debate about what to buy we get to the cashier at the market and she promptly lets us know that she doesn’t have any change – literally her register is empty – but after a series of questions, we realize this is no problem we can pay with cards. There are two people waiting near her, with their purchases, presumably for someone to arrive with cash. (This is around 8p, so not at all past an hour where a grocery store in the center of a tourist city might not be expected to have change.)
We pay and Elizabeth and I (one of my travel companions) move forward towards the exit. As we do we notice the old woman in line behind us, the cashier who was somewhat polite to us, (clearly hearing by our accents she could tell we were Americans, so maybe this was a part of it) was really brusque with this little old woman who was trying to buy a head of lettuce, two apples and a lemon. She told the woman brusquely to not even bother and to just take her cash and out the food back, before she even got to the register.
Elizabeth and I saw this and Elizabeth suggested we should do something so I went over to the woman and offered to buy it for her. First I thought to just use my card, but then talking with her I realized all she was buying was 4 Ron, so less than $1. I asked her if I could just give her a smaller denomination of cash, and that would be ok. I waited in line with this woman, who as so clearly touched that someone (again she could tell an American) had stepped in to help her and offered me her larger bill if I could change it, and finally she purchased her small amount of food.
In the moment where I offered her help, I was overwhelmed by emotion, I almost started crying, just offering her help. All I could think afterwards was of my Grandmom Florence
and also of what would have happened if we hadn’t been there and hadn’t stopped.
That evening back at the hotel, several hours later, I was still debating why I was so overcome with emotion in that moment, and all I can think is why I didn’t offer to buy her more, maybe some cereal or oranges or something more substantial.
Center city Brasov
With wings in Brasov, Romania.
The remainder of the trip was less eventful and action packed, we bested the top ranked Escape the Room Challenge in the city – Mind Games – solving all the puzzles and escaping in just two minutes past the allotted hour. We spent time walking and exploring the city and trying unsuccessfully to get our nails done; even though there were several salons with empty chairs and technicians sitting idly, they do not accept walk-ins. We also go to explore Rasnov, Peles and Bran castle with an amazing tour guide and a day filled with lots of information and laughter.
To return to Moldova, we yet again opted for the overnight bus from Brasov to Chisinau, but this time the ride was less than tolerable, and my ability to sleep through anything and anywhere was tested. The bus itself was packed, I mean every seat taken, people riding in the aisles and it was hot, I was soaked through my t-shirt within the first two hours. Furthermore, we were traveling with a group of Moldovan High School students, returning from a class trip and the pass through at the border took almost two hours because of how unorganized the youth and the border guards were.
All in all it was a lovely trip and a great, relaxing break from Moldova, but I don’t know that I would ever opt for an overnight bus again.
Peles Castle; not photo shopped at all. It really is that beautiful and picturesque.