My Biggest Travel Fiasco (or, the time I spent New Year’s Eve alone in Romania)

Budapest, Hungary

The clock reads 7:32 a.m. The man in the front seat is antsy, nervously playing with the manual lock system on the minivan. 

“Where are these people? Don’t they know we could be late for our flights?”

I assure Fidgety Floridian that the Budapest airport is quite small and easy to get through, but his wife isn’t convinced. She rolls her eyes and says, “We have the worst luck with planes. We nearly didn’t make it on the cruise.”

My flight to Tirgu Mures, Romania doesn’t leave for four hours, so I’m cool. I settle into the jump seat at the back of the van, wedged between luggage.

Three hours later, I’ve sailed through security and pursue the food options. I decide to wait until I land in Tirgu Mures, as I will need something to do for three hours before leaving for Madrid. My foot taps impatiently against the floor as we begin to embark. Wedged into an airport bus, I choose to stand next to someone who hasn’t showered.

For thirty minutes.

After which we are unloaded back  into the terminal and delayed another thirty minutes. I settle into my third book of my holiday break and return to tapping my foot again while doing the mental math: I have a one hour flight, a one hour delay and a one hour forward time change. I have just enough time to grab my bag, check in again and head to my gate once we touch down in Tirgu Mures. 

My foot taps faster.

In the air, I relax a little, as I’ve been assured that it will be taxi, takeoff, ascent, quick passage of the metal cart for snacks, descent, landing, taxi. Plus, I’ve snagged a seat on the aisle in the third row (thank you, Amazing Race, for teaching me how to get on and off planes quickly). Flipping through the inflight magazine for the third time, the captain announces something in Hungarian. Then, in English: Due to zero visibility in Tirgu Mures, we’ve been rerouted to Cluj, to which we have begun our descent. There will be buses on hand to take you to Tirgu, unless you’d prefer to stay in Cluj. We apologize for any inconvenience.

My heart skips a beat and I call the flight attendant, slightly panicked. How long until the buses arrive? Is it a far drive to Tirgu Mures? Will I have to go through customs here? I continue to fire, but she comes back with two responses: first, I don’t know anything about Romania and second, we are a point to point airline, sorry.

No shit. 

Cluj-Napoca Airport, Romania

Once on the ground, I call the Novio, fighting tears. Our New Year’s plans were to spend the night with his extended family which had come from London, Peru, Murcia and Madrid. He assures me they’ll come and pick me up from Madrid when I get in, whenever that may be. I hastily get through customs, and my checked bag comes barreling down the belt first.

My first stop is the tourist information counter. Unfortunately, the woman speaks limited English. There is no bus to Tirgu Mures out front, and I check my watch: with the time change, my flight closes in 90 minutes. I return to the desk and slow down: How long in taxi to Tirgu Mures? 

“One hour thirty, maybe two.” Remembering my Romania road trip, I think of the poor state of most highways in Romania and bite my lip.

Other travelers are taking pity on me, asking if there’s anything they can do to help me or if I’d like a lift to the center of Cluj. I rack my brain – I’ve been here before. It’s a large university city where we made a quick stop, and the food was cheap. A large, domed church with a fountain in front gets shaken from my head as I try to think straight.

The Cluj airport flies to many more destinations, including Barcelona and Madrid, I tell myself. If I fly out of anywhere, it will be here.

I have to say, I have never been a nervous flier. I always arrive to the airport early, pack my bag without liquids and know how planes work and why they just don’t fall out of the sky. Yes, I even pray to the Virgin of Loreto, patron saint of pilots (and I can’t believe I just admitted that). But now I’m antsy, channeling Kevin McCallister’s mother as I half-run to the Wizz Air ticketing office in the departures terminal.

The woman is quite nice and speaks English, and looks up flights to anywhere in Spain – Valencia, Alicante, Palma. Nothing more will fly out today to Spain, just to Budapest at 8pm, more than six hours in the future. She assures me there are flights from Budapest to Madrid the following day for a mere 145€, and the woman in the other information booth looks up overnight buses and prices for me.

Just then, a young Lufthansa worker touches me on the shoulder. Nothing is flying out of Targu this afternoon – there’s no ground visibility and they’ve already sent word that we’ll be getting flights bound for other destinations here, he tells me.

Feeling a stroke of good luck, I buy myself a cold sandwich and a warm Orsus beer and pace the empty departures hall.

For the next five hours, I jockey between the Wizz Air office, the check-in counters for news and the information desk. Passengers from other flights to Lutton and Beauvais pass through, looking at me as if I am in the movie Terminal. Time ticks by slowly, but I don’t pick up a magazine until several hours into the ordeal. Food doesn’t appeal to me, and even the nice Romanian girl who offers me tea gets a no, thank you.

The Lufthansa worker is nowhere to be found, so I ask another for help. Thankfully, he speaks English perfectly and makes a call. 

“We’ll know in thirty minutes, but I think you’re in luck. Just stay within sight.” Doing as I’m told, I finally start to try to occupy myself, returning to my e-book. Still distracted, another hour flies by and the Novio calls back. He tells me, pity in his voice, that no one could help him in Barajas, then, angrily, “And the call costs 1,15 a minute, joder!”

Just then, nice Lufthansa man steps out from around the heck-in desk with a long face. “Yeah, so, your flight will leave in 15 minutes. From Targu Mures. I’m sorry, the weather has cleared up.”

Well, crap.

Nice Lufthansa man turns into an angel when he gets on the phone with Wizz Air and scores me a new ticket, free of charge, for the misinformation he alleges I’ve received. An email in my inbox confirms this. I could hug him, but instead I give him the bottle of wine I was carrying home for the Novio’s family. One good deed deserves another, and he gladly accepts it, saying that he was made to work an extra eight hours with the influx of re-routed flights.

I grab my things and find a taxi after seven hours in the terminal. There is general confusion, as the taxi driver asks me which bus station I want to go to. I dart back into the terminal to find it completely deserted. I leave it to blind faith and nod when he asks the name of the company and just takes off, racing towards the city.

Cluj-Napoca City Center

We pull up to what appears to be an abandoned junk yard with a few plastic huts. “Bus!” the driver calls out and dumps my bag on the cold, wet ground. Never mind the vintage stein I’m bringing back…or the other bottle of wine.

Everything is dark. I can’t read anything. My watch read 8:22, or one hour, forty-eight minutes until the bus apparently passes. Music is playing at the hotel around the corner, so I go in and plead my way into sitting in the still-cold lobby, tired enough to want to cry, or just curl up and say to hell with an overnight bus.

Welp, turns out there was no overnight bus, or any bus or train on New Year’s Day, so I turn on my Internet data (happy Christmas bonus, Vodafona) and look up hotels, figuring it would be money well spent. There’s a Hilton.

There’s a Hilton.

The closest I can get to home is a Hilton, and they would definitely have wi-fi and breakfast. I realize, rubbing my eyes, I’ve barely eaten or even drank since 6:30 in the morning, adding to my drowsiness and overall pity party.

The Hilton glows green on the empty street, just a few yards from the city center. I practically collapse as the receptionist charges my credit card and writes down my information to the tune of 58€. Giving him the cliff notes of my sob story, he promises to call me a taxi.

Upstairs in my room, I’ve just taken off my bag when the phone buzzes. “Um, yes, my friend can take you to Budapest Airport tomorrow. It is five, maybe six hours. It will cost 250€. Yes?” Without even thinking, I say yes. Besides, I already did the mental math. If I waited another day, I’d have to spend another 58€ for the hotel room, over 300€ for the flight from Cluj on the 2nd, and then another train ticket from Madrid. 

I kick off my shoes and run the shower. I stare at the water and steam for about a minute before I decide I’m too tired to even stand under the jet of water. The clock says 11:23 p.m., a full 15 hours since I left the dock in Budapest. I should have arrived to Spain three hours ago.

My night is sleepless, punctuated by fireworks, whatsapps from well-wishing friends and a very nervous mother. My in-laws send pictures of themselves eating my 12 lucky grapes, and all I can think is, vaya suerte. 

Rural Romania

The driver nods his head at me as I slip in the back seat of his car. He punches something nervously into his GPS and I wish him a happy new year, surprisingly sunny, given the circumstances and the money I am about to fork over to him. It doesn’t seem that he speaks English, which both relieves and disappoints me.

One thing I can say since my road trip through Transylvania and Mures: the roads have definitely gotten better. We speed out of Cluj along the E-61 towards Hungary, and I am flooded with memories of my trip. The intricately carved wooden crosses on the side of the road, the haystacks behind homes and the women in black fly by as we take the twisting roads west.

There’s definitely a common theme amongst Romanians – they’re all so damn nice, and it’s amazing what a terrible night of sleep did to me – I feel 100 times better and pray to the travel gods that I will be back in Spain on the first day of 2014.

Romanian-Hungarian border

The driver is nervous. He backs his car up, pulls it back in, changes positions, smokes his smokeless cigarette pipe thing. I’m sipping down water in small amounts, not sure if he speaks enough English to know I need a pit stop. After seven long minutes (for him, not me), the guard approaches the car and hands me back me passport and Spanish residency card.

On the first day of 2014, I’ve already got two freshly stamped entries in my passport. Every cloud…

Budapest, Hungary

Once we’re into Hungary, the roads become straight and the hills disappear. While I can understand some words in Romania because of its Romantic language roots, Hungary has me completely stumped. All I can make out is the ever-dwindling number of kilometers between our car and the airport.

The driver drops me off right in front of the terminal. I’ve given him a tip of close to 30€ (after all, he charged me in Romanian leu and that conversion is not easy on a sleep-deprived brain) for his trouble on New Year’s Day, and he shakes my hand firmly after helping me put my heavy bag on my back. I thank him on the only word in Romanian I know, multumesc. Thank you very much.

My phone picks up the wi-fi immediately in the airport, and I re-book a train ticket for 9:30 p.m. I have three hours before my flight, which will give me time to finally have a beer, get checked in and get through security…and maybe eat fast food and not feel ashamed about it. Spanish permeates my consciousness and I relax.

Once on the plane, the sky is a dreamy pink with streaks of red until night falls.

Madrid, Spain

As soon as the plane touches down, the first thing that comes to mind is Manolo Escobar’s famous Spain anthem, Que Viva España. My phone is turned on before we reach the gate, and I send whatsapps to everyone I know. I feel like I’ve returned to a place where everything makes sense and where language is no longer an issue. I get Spain. 

Time seems to pass by in three seconds as I grab my bag, transfer to terminal 4, hop on the cercanías line and make it to my train – the last of the day – with 20 minutes to spare. Being a holiday, my car was only half full, so I could curl up across both seats and sleep for two hours. Stepping onto the platform and seeing ‘SEVILLA – SANTA JUSTA’ as I take a deep breath reminds me that I am, at long last, home.

Sevilla, Spain

I arrive home five minutes to midnight on January 1st. The travel gods heard my plea, it seems. I’ve traveled, by my estimate, over 3900 miles in 40 hours. The Novio hasn’t changed the sheets in two weeks, but I hardly notice as I sleep, finally, in my own bed for 10 hours.

I’ve since recounted the short version of the ordeal to my friends. While some are shocked and glad it didn’t happen to them, I can say this: I am relieved that I am a seasoned traveler and that I’ve watched my parents navigate standby and weather delays like champs. My nerves and even my tear ducts were put to the test, but I got home, unscathed (just poorer). Had I been new to international travel or unaware of European flight compensations, I may have made rookie mistakes.

One thing I have realized? I am not cut out for round-the-world travel. While it seems challenging and fun, I’m too accustomed to my comforts and hate wearing dirty clothes (there, I admitted it). I can handle when things don’t go as planned, but I don’t like it because I am not spontaneous. I like feeling grounded. I like the feeling of familiarity. I like having wi-fi and no roaming data (my bill came yesterday…ouch).

That’s not to say that I won’t travel for extended periods of time – I most certainly will travel as far as my body and my salary will take me, and have big dreams when it comes to doing it. But I think I’ve finally mató el gusano. The idea of round-trip travel is no longer a little tickle that flares up once in a while.

The idea of becoming an expat in another city or another country? THAT is the new gusanillo.

Have you had any travel disasters recently? I’d love to hear them, and if they’re Spain-related, feel free to send me the story for publishing!

Uncovering the Romania Diaries

Every so often, I feel the need to open up my three big boxes of old lesson plans, phone bills and the millions of photocopies I’ve made of my college degree to clean it out. The new academy job gave me good reason to dive in and see what I had by way of something-more-advanced-than-colors-and-numbers worksheets.

Stashed between adverbs of frequency and a few documents from the Spanish Treasury, I found 12 hand-written pages from the long rides in the ancient Dacia the six of us took in Romania. While Bryan drove and Matt read aloud from Dracula, we crisscrossed the lonely highways of the country that produced my childhood idol, Nadia.

I jumped on the Romania trip after it had been planned and dubbed “Gypsies v. Vampires.” Living in Spain, the impression we often get of Romanians is that they’re undocumented, dangerous and jail-bound. In fact, when I presented my American passport at Barajas for a 2 a.m. flight, the customs agent scoffed and asked, “Why are you spending Holy Week in Romania?”

I gestured to his flipping of my pages, looking for a blank spot to affix the stamp. “Because I’ve been just about everywhere else.”

Arriving at 7.am. and disembarking, I was completely turned around, faced with a language with strange characters, barely anyone fluent in English and no Romanian currency. I found a bus willing to take euros and got off right in the center, on the street below Ceausescu’s Palace of Parliament – the stamp of Communist grey and menacing to me. Gypsies slept under fountains and women in headscarves sold flowers in front of St. Katherine’s Church.

As soon as we’d picked up the rental car and driven out of the city (a 90-minute odyssey in itself), the industrial Communist machine we’d expected became green fields that gave way to mountains, in which was nestled Sinai Palace.

As we settled into life in the car, we hit some of the major cities in Transylvania – Brasov, Sighisoara, Bran. After spending a few days exploring fortified churches and hilltop castles, we set off for Maramures, the region that borders Ukraine and retains much of the character it’s had for the last 200 years.

My notes become suddenly optimistic, more reflective and the handwriting haggard as I struggled to write down all of what I saw. The observations of our arrival follow.

WEDS

Up early. Loaded up on snacks and left (Sibiu) and its concrete jungle out towards the mountains to Cluy, where we had kebab lunch. Immediately greeted by green hills, streams, fewer cars, Roma, people in kerchiefs and on bikes. Peasant land.

Tunes: 90s Europop CDs bought at a gas station and Nate’s iPod.

cows, sheep, puppies and CRUXIFXES

Sacal the most rural: potholes, buggies, few cars. Women dress in black sweaters and skirts with kerchiefs, aprons and ankle booties.

Arrived to George’s house, 4 doors down from new and old churches. Met by Victor, family dachshund. [...] dinner prompt at 7 p.m.: water, plum and apple brandy, meatballs, horseradish from garden, stuffed eggs, salad, beets, veal with potatoes and mushrooms, walnut bread.

Walked at dusk to cemetery. Group of school kids sat singing with back-clad monk. Women still out attending the deceased, many of whom died young, chattering and chirping. Mass began shortly after, but we stayed to watch the stars turn on.

Big George goodnight and to sleep.

THURS

8am bfast – bread with cheese and meat, pearish apple juice, crepes with honey and jam. Attended to us as if kings.

Hiked through Botiza, past the stream, wooden houses, wells. Evident the way of life here has remained. Many elderly, few young.

Monastery of Botiza – wooden gate with fish, rope motif. Up hill, a complex of wooden buildings and small graveyard. Mass happening so church closed, I stood on a wooden bench to peer inside saw gold inlaid chandelier crowned with Jesus and 12 apostles.

Overlooked lush valley.

George told us to follow power lines to PI, so we hiked up and over  hill. At crest we were stopped by peasants on a cart. Communicating in our native languages, we told them we were American and heading to IP. They pointed and sent us off.

Had to pass thru cemetery to get to wooden church with w/ wolf’s tooth roof. Said to be one of the most interesting with “fiery depictions of hell” (LP), but it was locked. Walked back and hopped into car to drive to Sapanta on Ukranian Border to Merry cemetary.

Have you ever been to Romania? What were your impressions?

If January Marks the Start…My 2011 Travel Round-up

Let me tell you a little story about peer pressure.

When I was 11, my parents informed me that the dog had taken the news well. She faintly wagged her tail.

“What news?” I asked, hoping for the trampoline I’d begged my parents to buy us for ages.

Oh no, it was the M-word. We were moving. I’d have no friends. Maybe there wasn’t a Kohl’s there. Was Chicagoland > Rockford, or had my mother just confused after consumering too many kosher hot dogs growing up and was going crazy?

Well, I wanted to fit in. I did so by going to the Von Maur and using my birthday money to buy a pair of Jnco jeans because all of the popular girls had them.

I strutted into Edison middle school the next morning and was immediately dismissed as a poser.

Well, I didn’t learn my lesson. Now that I’m blogging, I give into the peer pressure of comparing stats, doing those dumb surveys and, as the new year has already crept up on us, a year in review. In 2011, I added two new countries to the list, had five visitors from the US, got my work/residence visa paperwork all together and turned 26.  I can’t say 2011 will be the greatest I’ve had (dude, 2010 was pretty, pretty good), but I managed to see some new things, meet some new people and probably consume a new pig part.

January

Amy and I rang in the New Year with oysters, an old boxing legend and a broken camera in Lausanne, Switzerland. I moped through Season Three of Sex and the City the next day while Amy was bed ridden. Colds and booze do not mix, people.

From there, I met several  friends in Berlin, Germany and got my history nerd on as I explored a concentration camp, museums and the off-beat Berlin.

February

Apart from the usual routine, I got to go to my first flamenco fashion show and a wine festival. Cheap wine, that is.

March

March came in like a león, as I spent a raucous night in Cádiz as a third-of the blind mice group at the annual Carnavales celebrations.

My first visitors of the year, Jason and Christine, spent a rainy sojourn in Sevilla,

but then Beth came during the Azahar and warm weather, and we drank in Granada, Jeréz and Cádiz (and then I got strep).

April

Ahh, a Sevillian primavera. I spent Easter Week in Romania with my camp buddies, driving a beat up Dacia from one forlorn corner of Romania to another. I loved it, and consider it a budget-lovers paradise – I spent in one week less than I did on my airfare! And ate a ton of pickles. I am like the Snooki of Spain when it comes to pickles.

May

The first week of May brought flamenco dresses, sherry and my five-year win over Spanish bureaucracy during Feria week. I spent nine days riding in horse carriages and proving I have plenty of enchufe.

A few weeks later, Jackie and her brother came to visit, and we took off to Córdoba for another fair.

Also, Luna turned one, Betis worked its way back into the premiere league, and summer was just on the horizon.

June

Switched to half days at work just as it was impossible to take the heat. Got to watch Lauren walk down the aisle and party all night (only to fly to Madrid for a conference the next morning. I made it!). And I got my first real year of teaching done, too!

I may have, at time, been a professional baby handler, but having a peek into a kid’s world is something magical. Magical if you like boogers, of course.

July

The first of the month brought a huge triumph: I was finally given my five-year resident card and had won my battle with extranjería. For the third summer in a row, I headed up north to Galicia and to summer camp. Instead of teaching, I was given the role of Director of Studies, so I got a work phone and unlimited photocopies. Perks. Teachers got crap weather, but I a not-crap team (they were awesome.)

The Novio, finally back from pirate-hunting, met me in Madrid for a few days. We got the chance to, um, do what we do in Seville (eat tapas and drink beer) before making a day-trip to the sprawling El Escorial palace.

August

A is for August and America and fAtty, as I spent 23 days eating up all of my favorite American goodies, like real salads and Cheez-its. I had help celebrating a birthday, as my dear amigas from Spain, Meag and Bri, came to Chicago for a few days. I also got to visit Margaret in her New Kentucky Home.

What I thought would be a good little sojourn was much too short, and I boarded a Dublin-bound plane and stayed overnight on the Emerald Isle.

September

School started again September first, and my change to first grade resulted in more naps, more work and more responsibility. Thankfully, I had my great kiddos back in my (own!!!) classroom. Life resumed as normal.

October

Though I vowed to make my fifth year in Spain new (and I have been doing hiking trips, seeing theatre and exhibitions, etc.), I fell in to normal school routine. In October, this was punctuated by a work trip to Madrid for a conference, studying for the DELE and endless barbeques. When in Spainlandia, I suppose.

November

The new month meant cooler air, a focus on studying and a visit from my final visitor, Lisa. I sprinted out of the DELE to catch a train, meet her and take her to Granada. We laughed at all of our college memories and she broke out of her little mundo to try new foods and explore Seville on her own.

Bri came, so we had a small Thanksgiving dinner, and I shared it with my not-so-anxious-about-pie goodness at school.

December

Amid lots of school work and the looming Christmas play, I enjoyed the Christmas season in the city. Brilliant lights, snacking on chestnuts, window-shopping. The Novio went to the States for work, and I followed him soon after to travel around the Southwest with my parents and sister. The Valley of the Sun, Vegas and the Grand Canyon were on the itinerary, but the extra $640.55 I won on a slot machine win weren’t!

Sadly, the year ended on a sour note when I got news that the child I had repped during my years in Dance Marathon passed away after a long battle with cancer. I don’t want to preach, but you can visit the website to see what the Dance Marathon at the University of Iowa does for kids and their families who are battling cancer.

Goals for the next year? Plenty, both personal and professional. Just be better, I guess. The second part of the year has been a huge slump, so it’s time to find me again. Be a better partner, teacher, friend. Fill up those last two pages of my passport. Figure out where to go next.

I want you to share your biggest accomplishment and goals for 2011-2012! I need some inspiration, readers!

I like cemeteries.

I felt very unfestive this year at Halloween.

In years past, we’ve celebrated pumpkin decorating parties,

had enormous Halloween fetes,

and thrown big celebrations at school.

The Novio usually has a training course during this week, so I was excited to finally show him why my love of cemeteries and ghost stories is normal.

This was as festive as we got:

During my sophomore year of college, Lisa, Beth and I were studying for our Age of the Dinosaurs (if you don’t believe this is actually a class at the University of Iowa, you can find the course description here) on a blustery Halloween Eve night. Bored of cladograms and sauropods, we hatched a plan to visit the Iowa-famous Black Angel, a reputedly haunted statue in the Oakland Cemetery of Iowa City. equipped with flashlights and warm clothing, we took a water bottle full of liquid courage (Hawkeye Vodka, clearly) and set off.

Legend has it that the monstrously large statue was erected by a woman who had once lived in Iowa City to preside over the remains of her dead son and husband, but over a few years’ time, the statue turned black and the wing bent inward. Locals claim the statue has always been connected to the paranormal, and like Scout Finch and the Radley house, we dared one another to touch it to test its claim that virgins were safe. In the windy, damp night, the statue seemed twice as large and even more sinister. In the daylight, however, the whole place just seemed idyllic.

Cemeteries have always fascinated me, whether or not it’s the Halloween season. During my travels, I make it a point to see the way people are laid to rest, how their living relatives honor them. Maybe it’s just because of the Spanish celebration of Día de Todos los Santos, a more pious version of Day of the Dead, which was celebrated just yesterday.

Reputedly, 30% of flowers are sold in the days leading up to the one reserved for families to honor their deceased by offering flower ofrendas and cleaning up the gravesite. I was dying (whoa, wrote that without thinking and am going to leave it) to go and see if the Manchego All Saint’s Day from the movie Volver was spot-on.

In the end, that stupid DELE exam won out, so I’ll just leave you with some shots from hauntingly gorgeous cemeteries from around Europe.

Prayer candles in Bukovina, Romania

A forlorn cemetery in Maramures, Romania

The Merry Cemetery of Sapanta, right on the border. I love the jovial depictions of life and death of over 800 people.

In Spain, the 75% who choose not to be cremated are usually given lockers at the local cemetery. This one is in Olvera, Cadiz

The creepy, even in broad daylight, cemetery in Comillas, Santander, is reputed to be haunted.

Like Iowa City, Comillas has its own Angel. Summer 2010.

Along the road to redemption in Cashel, Ireland.

A peaceful Christmas morning with unbelievable light in Limerick, Ireland. I may or may not have looked for Frank McCourt’s dead brothers.

Do you like cemeteries? Seville’s San Fernando Cemetery is home to celebrated bullfighters and flamenco dancers, and it’s a peaceful garden. Free to enter, though photos are not allowed.

 

When in Rome-ania: My trip by the numbers

The customs agent scoffed upon reading my boarding pass. He thumbed through a few pages of my passport (which recently turned five) and gave me a puzzled look.

“I guess if you’ve been everywhere else, the only destination left is Romania,” he said, adding a fresh Barajas stamp to my documentation.

Spaniards have an aversion for Romanians, even when the better part of their gypsy population (and, therefore, flamenco, are of the same country). Many of the supposed criminals, and indeed residents of Spanish prison systems, come from the former Soviet country and their disgust in Romanians is far from hidden. Like my trip to China, I didn’t expect to have Romania at the top of my list, despite my long obsession with gymnastics and need to see every corner of Europe.

But my friends went, so I tagged along. What transpired was a great number of miles driven in our keyed but Soviet-strong Dacia and several laughable screw-ups. Here’s our trip by the numbers.

Hours spent in Bucharest: three. Hours spent trying to get out of Bucharest: nearly two

Size of the Parliamentary Building at the end of Blvd. Unrii: 270m by 240m by 86m, making it the second largest in the world, after the Pentagon

Year of our Dacia: 2001, we think?

Number of stray dogs we saw: Good one. Multemesc, Chow-sess-cuu

UNESCO sites visited: four, we think, which were the Saxon fortified churches, painted monasteries of Bukovina, the historic center of Sighasoara and wooden churches of Maramures

Number of times we thought we were in Ghimbav before we actually got there: two

Width, in inches, of Sforii Street in Brasov: 44 at it’s slimest

Cost of entering Dracula’s Castle (really called Bran and never home to Vlad the Impaler, or Jonathan Harker’s captor) on a student entry: 10 lei, or 2,50 euros

Inhabitants of Botiza, Maramures, where we spent two nights: 2,500 according to our host, George

Wooden crosses marking the lives of the dead in Sampanta: 800, all carved with the deceased’s most important life moments

Cost of an overnight train from Gura Humorului to Bucharest: 44 euros (154 lei)

And, it goes without saying, the amount of fun we had was immeasurable.

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