Saturday, September 7, 2013

Mackie's Back in Town

I'm pretty ashamed that I haven't posted to this blog in over 5 years...which means I only posted once during my Peace Corps service. In my defense, facebook kind of took over for picture showing to friends, nonetheless, here I am.

A little explanation of the title: my nickname growing up was "Mack". :)

So here I am, back in the little town of Târgu Ocna which I called home for 3 years as a Teaching English as a Foreign Language Peace Corps Volunteer. Of course I was picked up when I landed by Emilia and Adina, the two other English teachers at the middle school I taught at, both Romanians. Emilia was my Peace Corps "counterpart", my supervisor basically, and Adina was the school's other English teacher I collaborated with. Official titles aside,  I always tell people that I was lucky enough to make two of the best friends of my life while in the Peace Corps. Seeing my two besties at Otopeni airport was amazing, and I was so happy to pick up exactly where we left off two years ago. My friend Emilia's cousin and his wife were gracious enough to host us for the night in Bucharest. We were up bright and early to catch a train for the seaside that ended up being 40 minutes late (I love Romania).  All the excitement of riding the beloved CFR (Romanian Railway System) surged in me as I went to give the conductor my ticket:

Here's me with my friend Emilia

He's going to take the ticket...he's going to take the ticket!
Super happy to be getting my ticket validated

Looking like a boss on the train with Adina :)

5 hours of catching up later we were at the Black Seaside and in our villa. "When in Rome" is never more appropriate than when travelling in Romania. The place we stayed at was literally the equivalent $30 a three people...not per person. I love Romania. 

It was so great to step back into the Black Sea after a day of rest :) Here's the trip in pictures

So pretty much every beach is a "private" beach, so they're coated with these lounge chairs that you have to pay to use...or else be hassled to leave. Needless to say, we were hassled alot ;)

And the So Cal girl had to dive right into the waves, those are my feet.
Swimming in the Black Sea

Hanging out with Emilia

The beach we were staying at is called "Eforie Nord". Here's what part of the main street looks like.

That doughnut place called "Gogoasa Infuriata" translates to "The angry doughnut"...loves it!

There are tons of booths and shops to check out, but none with a Steaua beach towel! Steaua is a soccer team from Romania that made it to the Europe Champions League this year! And no one had one, believe me, I asked EVERYONE!

Any trip I take is all about food. Those are some delicious glazed peanuts that I'm enjoying while us ladies shop.

This is me with Emilia and her cousin Mihaela. Mihaela and her husband Gabi met up with us on the second day we were at the seaside to enjoy some fun in the sun :)

Owning it outside of a grocery store

That next morning we headed to the mud baths and look at what we ran into on the walk there...

...the circus was in town!

So it costs the equivalent of $3 to enter the mud baths!!!

Emilia, Mihaela, and Gabi couldn't believe how happy I was to cover myself in mud, but it's soooooo relaxing!

Leaving the salty water after sunbathing to let the mud dry

Emilia, me, and Gabi :)

They segregate the beach into Women, Co-ed, and Men sections to allow for more complete mud bathing *ahem*...but it really makes no difference because once you swim out far enough in the water of the salt lake you can see everything....eeeeverything *shudder*

Behind us is the salt water lake that is SUPER salty. But once you mud bathe and wash off in the salt water your skin feels SO smooth

Walking back to the villa we ran into a promo truck for the circus (I really pray that the animals are treated ok)

And the next day we headed to a different beach for some more relaxing

And fun

Just to give you an idea of what the beach looks like
Look at who showed up on our door step that night!
I feel bad because the flash from my camera scared the little hedgehog...but look at how cute he is!
The owners of the villa say he shows up every night.

Then we decided to spend the day at Neptun Romania (I always sound like Yakov Smirnof) they have beaches named after planets in the solar system: Neptun, Saturn, Venus, Jupiter.

There were some pretty swans in the lake

I'm kind of bummed, but I forgot to get a pic with the corn they sold (I love food). They had boiled and roasted corn stands all over the place, SO delicious!

The waters at Neptun

Neptun beach...notice how the trash cans are the colors of the Romanian flag...awesome!

And that night look who we ran into walking the streets of Eforie Nord!

Our last day we headed up past Constanta (the big beach city and county capitol) and headed to Mamaia. Here's me and Gabi after enjoying a shaorma (fara carne (without meat) for me).

And Mihaela and I had to do our Coke ad too :)

Walking around Mamaia

Mihaela, Emilia, and I looking very pretty and lady like 

YARG! I'm trying to do a Captain Morgan pose

Looking like a bunch of bosses OWNING Mamaia :)

Adina, Mihaela, and me on a bridge

Goofing around

Before we set off on a 5 hour drive back to Târgu Ocna we stopped in a restaurant
 So that was my trip to the seaside. You should have seen me in the care jumping around like a 5 year old with excitement as we got closer and closer to Târgu Ocna! It was amazing to be back in town. This has been a really emotional trip so far, with lots of tears of joy, relief, and grief that had to be shed because of everything that has happened over the past two years. Going to the seaside surrounded by such supportive and loving friends is just the start to my trip that I needed.

And to close this post, a new song about the Black Seaside by Romania's pop princess:

Sunday, July 6, 2008

For my Grandpa

Right before one of our group's afternoon sessions someone stood up and suggested a trip to Sinaia the day after our 4th of July party to...and I quote..."Relax under a tree and read, or do some hiking". I said to myself "I should go, some fresh air will do me some good." There was no huge plan, people were just meeting up at the train station at 7:30 to head up to Sinaia.

Sinaia is a town up in the mountains. It's pretty small and people in my group had been there before and talked about how beautiful it was. I decided to go with no intentions on hiking, I just wanted to curl up under a tree and study my Romanian and relax a little. Little did I know...

So first off I hadn't been up before 7 the entire time I've been in waking up at 6:30 really sucked. I got ready and headed over to the train station. I met up with a pretty big group of us, it had to have been 15 people. When I went to buy my ticket, which only cost like 9 lei, I only had a 50 lei bill on me. The woman behind the counter, which I had just seen collect an assload of smaller bills from the customer in front of me, flat out refused to take the 50 lei bill. I whipped out my credit card, which infuriated her more; and, forced to pick the lesser of too evils, snatched the 50 bill out of my hand and proceeded to give me the change from a drawer I could see filled with smaller bills. You gotta love the customer service in Romania!!! I actually empathized with the cashier, which is why I completely understood the eye roll she gave me as she counted out the 41 lei. I had been in her shoes before, and I had wanted so bad to do express the feelings she felt more than comfortable exposing me to. Unfortunately for me, when I was a cashier, I was forced to bottle up my frustrations, put on the most convincing smile I could, and deal with customers who were far bigger pains in the ass than I ever was to that Romanian cashier.

Tickets in hand, we boarded our train...the infamous Personal. The train rides I had taken to Bucharest were the class above Personal, if I remember correctly, and they were perfectly fine. The Personal is quite an experience though considering there is no assigned seating, and I was one of the unlucky people unable to find a seat. So I stood by the windows and figured the trip wouldn't be so long that I'd get uncomfortable standing the whole time. This train however, decided to take a half hour break in the middle of some random town...not even at a station. I gave up on thinking my jeans would stay clean and hunkered down on the floor next to the bathroom (other people were doing it too so I'm not that big of a weirdo). When the train finally started moving again and got to the next big station it parked itself for what had to have been an hour at that station. Basically, what should have been an hour and half train ride got stretched into three hours. It gave me a chance to connect with some fellow volunteers, though. Our conversations were about everything from Simpsons analogies (remember that one where Mr. Burns' train is stopped and when Smithers says their taking care of the problem it cuts to a bunch of engineers standing around a couch on the tracks scratching their heads? That's what I had assumed was happening to us as well), food service worker woes (OMG it was so nice to meet someone who understood how much BS the secret shopper program is), and pets back home (I was ecstatic to talk with someone who was as big an animal lover as I am). We finally reached Sinaia and I was about ready to catch the next train heading to Ploiesti and call it a day, but I figured I might as well make the ordeal worth while.

Our group first spent a few minutes regrouping, grabbing some food and drinks, before we made our game plan. I just decided to look up and admire the clouds that were swirling in front of my eyes, they looked so close! A few volunteers decided to break off, go up to the castle (which was the first electrified castle in Europe), and head over to a restaurant. I so wanted to go with them, but I assumed I'd be able to meet up with them after a quick little relaxation session under the tree the remainder of the group promised to lead me to. So up we started.

We were walking up through the town when we took a quick stop by a monastery in town. Another volunteer and I took a couple pics in front of it. Here is the picture that will live in infamy...for me at least.

That other volunteer and I could not have been in front of that monastery for more than 3 minutes. When we got out our group had vanished! I saw one person turning a corner really far ahead, so we started the process of catching up.

OMG! Ok so I had been trying to do a little jogging while in Ploiesti, and I'll be the first to admit I'm not in the best of shape, but I swear to you just WALKING up that hill almost made my lungs explode. The pathetic thing was, we were just walking through town, my feet were still hitting pavement...pavement at a 60 degree angle but pavement nonetheless!!! The other volunteer was doing fine, and I felt so bad for slowing him down. It was kind of funny though because he turned around and saw my wheezing ass and asked "Are you ok?" Through gasps for air I blamed my mild asthma for the problem. Once I gave up on the delusion of at some point catching up with the rest of the group I was able to snap a few cool shots along the way.

The only way I caught up with the group was after they stopped at the bottom of the mountain we were about to climb. You could imagine the look on my face when I realized the ordeal wasn't over yet. I was able to cover up the fact that I was completely winded while we were only at the base of the mountain pretty nicely in this pic though.

Before we started up the mountain there was a warning poster that I had to get a picture of because it looked so funny. And it's a serious warning, there was the very real possibility that we could run into a bear while walking up or climbing down the mountain. A group of volunteers had run into a couple of cubs a few weekends before in Sinaia and a group of volunteers who were out camping in a different town had a bear ransack their campsite at night, while they were in their tents! This picture is just so much different than the one of Smokey the Bear I had grown up with and loved so much.

So we started hiking. While most of the group decided they had to sprint up the mountain, I was so relieved when a fellow volunteer was just as content as I was to go up the mountain at a moderate pace.

A little ways through we saw this gorgeous water fall thing that I had to get a picture in front of.

Then I realized that if I told people back home that I had actually hiked up a mountain they would never believe me. So I whipped around in the middle of our excursion and had the volunteer behind me snap this dozy...preserving forever the evidence of what I had endured.

Right after that picture, the drama of what I was going through was alleviated, and I started thinking of how beautiful the scenery was( you know, now that I had a chance to admire it because I had caught my breath). Then I started thinking about my Grandpa Johnson and how he would have loved to have been there with me. I know I complain a lot about "the great outdoors" and camping and make it very evident that I would much rather spend a weekend in a nice hotel and go sight seeing in a city than spend a weekend camping (I think it's PTSD from how many times my parents dragged me camping), but I inherited from my Grandpa a genuine appreciation of everything that nature has to offer. Once I realized that at the moment I started to take in how beautiful everything around me was my Grandpa was right next to me appreciating everything too, I started to get real teary eyed (as my Dad would say). I hadn't really been able to fully absorb the fact that he was gone, but I feel that there could not have been a more perfect time for me to accept that my Grandpa was gone, because it was at that moment that I realized he would always be with me.

So the rest of the hike up the mountain was infinitely enjoyable, and after over two hours of hiking I could not have asked for a more beautiful reward when we got to the top of the mountain.

I finally had reached the point where I could do what I had gone to Sinaia for in the first place, relax under a tree and study...only there was a lot more relaxing, and talking, going on than actual studying. Oh and this is another little tid bit that no one back home is going to believe. While we were sitting on our coats in the field there were all sorts of bugs flying around us, bees of course included. A volunteer who was quite aware of my bee-phobia was immensely helpful in calming me down (that whole pretend you're in a bubble thing really works!). And after a while, believe it or not, I was able to relax, bees whizzing past my ears and everything! Here's a picture of some of us hanging out in the field.

After a couple hours at the top of the mountain I needed to head down to use a proper toilet (no way I'm poppin a squat...ever!) Me and Jessica (the volunteer who climbed up with me) headed down together. We made sure to talk loudly and clap and make other noises because we were both kinda freaked out about running into a bear. The best part was, we headed down before the rest of the group did, but they beat us to the bottom of the town after we had used the restroom at this pimpin hotel and checked out a little market. It didn't matter though, I was just so happy to make it out alive, as evidenced by this picture of myself relieved and safely at the bottom of the mountain. That's also to park where I also could have hypothetically sat under a tree and read without having gone up the hill...but what fun would that have been?

The whole group needed some just of sustenance after all that hiking, so we tried a restaurant, but after pretty much everyone got in on the group heading to the fast food stand I decided to tag along with the people going for the cheaper option. I was happy to see they offered a cheese sandwich, and it ended up being pretty delicious, kind of like a cheeseburger with no burger and a huge hunk of melted, battered, and fried cheese.

We headed to the train station and got on the first train for Ploiesti. It was a nice Accelerat, I got to sit in a cabin and everything. I had it all to myself too, which gave me the perfect opportunity to reflect on the day and give my butt some time to recuperate (I pretty much felt like I had done a billion I felt pretty good!)

That was my experience in Sinaia! Pretty fun in an unexpected way, and I'm sure with two years here I'll have plenty more chances to experience and appreciate the mountains again.