Travel Tips

One of things I was so excited about when I was coming to Romania was the possibility of travel. I love traveling. It gives me so much joy to visit other countries and see other cultures and ways of life. Even though I was an English major, I did a lot of history study so that I could enjoy literature in context.

The downside to not having my former job is that I have a lot less funds than before, but I consider myself fortunate because budget travel forces you to be a lot more inventive. I think traveling on the cheap can also help you to have a more authentic experience.

Some of our favorite experiences from the places we’ve visited in the past year have been either free or very low cost. For example, all the FREE WALKING TOURS we have done. I really can’t say enough positive things about free walking tours.

Here are some of the internet tools I use to plan our trips:

Google Flights – great for exploring prices in your potential travel window

ITA Flight Matrix –  this tool allows you to see the prices of flights for a specific route during a window; perfect if your travel window is flexible (select month view and you can see the cost of all the fares for the month to your destination)

Booking.com – can save you 10% on hotel room after a few bookings; sometimes will have lower rates if you select a non-refundable rooms (I used an affiliate link here, and if you book using this link you get $20 and so do I)

Wizzair – for air travel to and from Romania

VRBO/AirB&B – for when you can’t find a hotel or when you want to be able to cook your own meals

Now, none of these resources are very novel or secret. It’s just that they are reliable tools that routinely provide great results for me.

I use Booking.com usually because I get a 10% discount on what they call their “genius” bookings. After so many reservations (I think 5), you automatically get this discount. Now, I know it’s not much, but 10% can usually offset the daily city tax that you get charged in many European cities.

TripAdvisor also offers a lot of great reviews and pointers on their forums. Personally, I like to scout out the places I want to visit (as well as the restaurants) and save them to my Google Maps ahead of time. That way,  I can just consult the map to see if we’re close to any places of interest or good places to eat. I learned the hard way that trying to find a cheap and decent place to eat when you’re already hungry (and your phone is on 2G) is really difficult.

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All of the highly rated food places from Trip Advisor, plugged into my Google Map that I saved for offline use.

I think when it comes to budget travel, the word that comes to mind is flexibility. You must be flexible. Yes, you will be able to travel, but you might not always be in the best location or have the best flight time. Think about where you’re willing to sacrifice a bit – okay, maybe you’re not in the coolest neighborhood, but are you near a metro/bus stop?

Believe it or not, that sort of compromise can actually make your trip a lot more convenient. An early flight could mean that you can have a great nap on the plane. Instead of seeing these compromises as negatives, try and see them as opportunities for your adventure. Literally every time something goes wrong for Claudiu and I, we look at each other and say, “Adventure!” as in, this is adding some excitement to our trip and possibly another great story to tell our family and friends later. Of course, we love it when everything goes smoothly, but when it doesn’t, it’s more fun when you frame it in a positive way.

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This Vaporetto trip in Venice took a lot longer than we thought and we ended up being late – but hey, we were together (!) in Venice! Adventure!

Mici Mici Mici Mici

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The secret ingredient is Ciucas beer poured over the meat while it’s on the grill

Happy 1 Mici…I mean, 1 Mai, everybody!

The first of May is a special holiday in Romania. It’s labor day, which means almost everything is closed and almost everybody gets the whole day to chill!

Appropriate trips or activities for this day include: going to the seaside, going to the mountains, or getting out into the countryside.

But above all, you must grill mici.

From this Romania Insider article:

“The…peak [of Mici sales] is recorded in the May 1 mini-break, when the Romanians eat more than 30 million mici in 2-3 days, representing 1,500 tons.”

1,500 tons of mici.

For the uninitiated, the word mici means “littles” in Romanian, so mici are (little) sausages of minced meat. This can lead to some jokes, such as the one McDonald’s made a year or so ago in this commercial:

You can see, mici are more than a little popular (ha). You can find them everywhere – some places make them not-so-mici and they end up looking more like hamburger sticks. Any way you get them, you can dip them in some muștar (mustard) and they’re pretty tasty. I didn’t like them at first, but they’ve grown on me a bit.

So I hope everyone enjoyed their day of rest. We had beautiful weather in Brasov and celebrated with a backyard grill and sitting in the sun. Everything is so green here. It smells amazing.

Bonus picture of the mici magician, whose favorite trick is making mici disappear:

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“Abra-ca-DABRAchompGHGHHHgulp lick lick lick”

Venice

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Clau and I both had a week off for the Easter holiday, and I was seriously itching to travel. I always feel this way in the spring because of American spring break – most people get a week off during this time period and we usually use it to go to the beach or somewhere fun.

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From the dock of our hotel

I had been researching cities and travel sites since February, trying to find an affordable place for us to stretch our legs, but no dice. Everything was expensive because lots of people travel during the Easter holidays.

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This staircase earned their family the last name of “Snail”

However(!), Wizzair had a sale where all of their flights were 20% off. One of the cheapest flights they had was to Venice, so it made sense to me to take advantage. We used Booking.com to find a decently priced hotel and it was settled.

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From the Bridge of Sighs looking out towards the Venetian harbor

We left for Venice on Easter Sunday. Very early. OTP is 2 1/2 hours away and our flight was supposed to leave by 6:30, so we left Brasov at 12:40am. We did our sleeping on the minibus and the plane. It wasn’t really so bad that way. After we got to Venice, we walked to our hotel and our room was ready, so we took a short nap before venturing out.

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The best view in the city is from the top floor of their mall

Wow. What a city. I am always super impressed by European cities in general. Everything is old. Like, really old. Hardly anything in the United States is old, and if it is, then it’s from the 1800s or something. With the exception of Boston, New Orleans, or Savannah, you’re not going to see too much that’s older than that. So, when I see buildings from the 1500s, I can’t believe my eyes. They don’t fix up the buildings either, so all the patina you see is authentic and from centuries of sea breeze.

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There were a lot of tourists, of course, and we tried to see the favorites (Doge’s Palace, St. Mark’s Square, Grand Canal, etc.), but I found the most enjoyment out of seeing the less crowded residential neighborhoods and getting lost in the maze of bridges and tiny streets. It’s also somehow comforting and life affirming to see Venetians hanging out their laundry to dry as they’ve probably done for hundreds of years.

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No doges allowed in the Doge’s Palace.

We took two free walking tours. One was a five hour tour that took us to all of the major sites and gave us some helpful tips on the city (how to bypass the lines and great places to eat). The second tour was shorter, but the focus was more on showing us the non-tourist spots and their significance to the Venetian people.

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Original Lady GaGa: Venetian women walked on these platform shoes to keep their dresses from getting dirty.

Interestingly enough, neither tour was conducted by a Venetian. Apparently, they are pretty pissed about the whole “free tour” thing because usually they can charge 35 euro a head for a one hour tour. The thing is, the free tour is a great idea. You are under no obligation to pay anything. However, if you get great tour guides like we normally do, you feel like you want to pay them. With a great guide, you know you are getting the value of your money and you decide how much it is worth to you. If I had to pay 70 euro for a one hour tour, that guide had better be doing cartwheels trying to impress me 😛

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The price for a gondola tour is 80 euros for a 1/2 hour! What!

I was very happy that I had used TripAdvisor beforehand to find places to eat. We were on a budget, so I made a point to locate the best “cheap” food that wasn’t McDonald’s and I put the locations on a Google Map that I downloaded to my phone. I was able to access the map with the locations despite not having a signal or WiFi and it helped us out a lot.

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Inside one of the many churches in Venice

We took one day to travel out to two of the islands in Venice’s lagoon: Murano and Burano. Murano is famous for its glass making and you can watch them do glass blowing and other neat things, but I think I enjoyed Burano more.

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Making glass with a cigarette hanging out of your mouth…how very Italian?

On Burano, they are famous for lace and also the colorful way they paint their houses. I felt like I was on a tropical island. Also, it wasn’t nearly as crowded as Venice or Murano, and it was much more relaxing.

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Island of Burano

The last night of our trip, Clau took me to the Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal and proposed. I said yes 🙂 So now, we have an even sweeter story to tell that begins with our Venice trip (and maybe ends with a Vegas trip? Who knows! lol).

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We’re engaged!

After spending all the time in the Venetian sun, we returned back to Brasov where it was snowing. Y’all. I am not talking flurries. It was like a blizzard. I think we had a foot of snow in two days. Thankfully, it is all melted. But nothing is stranger than being sunburned and putting on your parka and snow boots.

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Louis was very excited to run around in the snow

I would go back to Venice again, for sure. I would like to see one more of the islands (Torcello is largely uninhabited, but the 1000 year old church still stands) and maybe do some shopping. Obviously, this is in the very distant future because I don’t foresee having money for that kind of shopping anytime soon. I hope someday I can purchase some of the Murano glass and a handmade paper mache mask for our home 🙂

Here’s the video of Venice I made using Google Photos:

Spring Comes for Leo

We have finally had some consistent spring weather. It seemed like for one week Mother Nature couldn’t make up her mind – I wore sandals and short sleeves on Thursday and then on Sunday we had a freak snowstorm…

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The view from our balcony…

…and now the sun and sky and everything is majestic again. I wore actual sunscreen on Saturday because the sun was so intense.

I completed the martișor ritual by tying my bracelet onto a flowering tree. I hope that the tree I picked was flowering enough because I could use the luck 🙂

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Clau and I went to Decathalon (for you USA people, Decathalon is like if REI was cheap lol) in search of some fun spring things. I had in mind to buy a scooter. I see these things everywhere and not just kids using them. I’m not quite brave enough to ride a bike in this town, so I thought a scooter would be the next best thing. However, I was really shocked at how much they cost. A decent adult scooter costs just as much as a bicycle, which means that I did not buy a scooter. Skateboards were also not an option because I am interested in having unbroken ankles.

So, I stuck with what I know (and can afford) and I bought some skates. They’re not like my roller derby skates (quad wheels), but I think I can learn on these pretty quickly. I mean, the physics can’t be that different, right? We’ll see 🙂

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Watch out, Brasov – no, really, watch out. I don’t know how to stop yet.

I spent some time trying to figure out which parks you can skate in – there’s one over in Tractorul that appears to allow wheeled contraptions in, but I’m not sure. The park in front of Aro Palace definitely does not, but you can skate around it 🙂 #loopholes

Springtime for Leo

We don’t need the weather forecast to tell if it’s spring because the Romanian Grill Index (RGI) is a much better indicator. If you step outside and the smell of grilling mici wafts up to your nose, then you know it’s OFFICIAL. Bonus if you can also hear manele.

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Mici!

Manele! (I am not a fan. Really.)

What’s my favorite F-list celebrity(?) been up to lately?

Well, it seems Leo hasn’t been doing too much else these days. Mostly lots of TV appearances with usual crew and the usual things: ex-girlfriends, ex-wives, and lots of money raining down on everyone. Not so many pictures of him with dogs, which makes me wonder if he’s doing okay.

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Leo approves of this keyboard.

This picture is very reassuring.

Of course, he’s been participating in one of life’s finer pleasures: The Grill.

 

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Car dancing!

I’ve never been invited to one of Leo’s grills, but it looks very fancy and fun.

 

First Romanian School

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Hello, beautiful weather!

Mother Nature tried her best. For a few mornings, it would spit snow, only to melt straightaway. She decided to give it up, and now we have a beautiful Spring happening in Brasov.

Boy, am I thankful. As a solar-powered person, I was seriously lacking in much needed energy. Also, I was dead sick of boots. My feet needed to BREATHE.

We’re studying some various topics in Romanian classes, one of them being the Romanian educational system. Our Professor was kind enough to arrange a field trip to the First Romanian School, happily located in Brasov (Schei neighborhood).

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We took the bus to the Piata Unirii station and met our guide outside of Biserica Sfântul Nicolae din Brașov (St. Nicolas Church).

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Our guide was just the best – he had a great sense of humor and explained everything to us in detail. It was his birthday so we sang La Multi Ani to him.

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Technology in the first Romanian school: abacus = early computer; chalk tablet = early iPad

There were many things for sale – maps and books and etc. The guide said he’s written over thirty books that no one’s read – HA.

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Costumes of the Junii Brasovului – the founding families of Brasov

The books in the museum ranged from biblical to scientific. The ones we saw were either written in Romanian Cyrillic or in Greek. Fun fact: the Romanian language was written in Cyrillic until the late 1800s. To me, visually, it’s very beautiful – but alas, totally unreadable to me.

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Many of the books were from as early as the 1500s. Lots of the them had been printed right there in the school. During Communism, all of the texts were hidden in the church. By doing this, they were able to save over 30,000 of Romania’s historical documents and books.

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The entrance price is ten lei for adults and you can easily walk there from the Black Church (Biserica Neagra) or take a quick bus (4 lei for a round trip ticket) to Piata Unirii.

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I love Romanian stoves! These are original from the 1700s.

After we toured the school, we went into Biserica Sf. Nicolae and our Professor bought us some candles to light “for our health”. Because the church is so old, they have a separate building for lighting candles. We finished our trip by taking a tour of the grounds.

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The whole experience was really great. I love books, especially old ones, so I was in hog heaven 🙂

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