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”

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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Doina

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How you doina?

Just kidding.

I do a fair amount of scouring YouTube for music in the Romanian language. It helps me learn the language and sometimes I find a jewel hidden in between all the manele.

When I found Doina, I was kind of shocked that I had never heard about it before. It seems to be a very important part of Romanian folk tradition and heritage of the people. You would think that someone would’ve mentioned it (or maybe I would have seen mention of it somewhere!), but for whatever reason, I had to discover it on my own. Perhaps I’ve been hearing it all along, and I just never realized it 🙂

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Doina is a type of traditional Romanian music. The improvisational style of Doina melodies is what makes it so beautiful; they are the expression of the melancholy soul and its longing (dor).

There are different kinds of Doina: the songs of shepherds and peasants, drinking songs, lullaby, outlaws, and perhaps one more familiar to American audiences, klezmer. Yes, klezmer music is descendant from the Doina music form (don’t forget that until the 1930s, Romania had a population of over 750,000 Jews). Doinas can be sung without accompaniment, with simple instruments such as flute or even a leaf (!), or enhanced with multiple instruments like violin or accordion.

In 2009, UNESCO added Doina to its list of “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity“.

Without further ado, here are some of my favorite Doina songs so far:

Doina Oltului (instrumental):

 

Doina Basarabia (instrumental):

 

Doina din Wallachia (instrumental):

 

Outlaw’s Doina (Doina haiduceasca):

 

Doina din Maramureș by the lovely Maria Tanase

 

Lullaby Doina (again by Maria Tanase!)

 

Doina Klezmer:

 

Doina de Jale (of grief):

 

Argatu’ also has a Doina de Jale for a more modern take:

 

Perhaps my most favorite modern Doina of all, from Subcarpati (of course):