Okay so I’m about to explain my unexplained absence. There was a sudden distant death in the family, which ended up with my dad, stepmom, and half-sister coming to Bucharest for a few days. In between spending time with them, watching my half-sister while they prepare funeral arrangements, and my already hectic schedule, I found last week to be exhausting and a whirlwind.
Now it’s Wednesday, I think. Which means it’s my last Wednesday in Bucharest. I fly out on Saturday afternoon, and will go to spend roughly two weeks with family in Timisoara. Friday will be my last working day at the embassy, and I’m having a hard time coming to terms with my departure. It simultaneously seems like I just got here and also arrived like five years ago. In these two short months, I have learned an awful lot about myself and what I’m capable of doing on my own. Traveling on your own is way different than traveling with a friend. Living on your own is way different than living with a roommate. I’ve grown in a lot of ways, but I’m also happy to be leaving because I’ve noticed my tendency to adopt the cynical Romanian mindset. I will miss the city tremendously, particularly the social aspect, and I will miss a select few people who went out of their way to help me adapt.
I can’t be too upset about leaving though, because I really look forward to being in Timisoara and Sannicolau Mare. I have a lot of family there that I haven’t seen in a year, so we have a lot of catching up to do. I have friends to laugh with, walks to go on, a cute and cuddly toddler to run after, and delicious homemade food to eat. Sannicolau is also a smaller town, so I won’t have to worry about catching public transportation or dealing with insane amounts of traffic. I’m excited to be back. All of these feelings are confusing though, I always feel overwhelmed ending another chapter of my life. I have a lot of good things to look forward to when I’m back in the states (namely turning 21, moving into my first real apartment, and starting my last semester of college.
I plan on spending my last few days in Bucharest seeing all of the people that I care about. Friday I have planned a “farewell” night, where my friends can stop by for a drink and some laughs. It’ll be at Mojo, which is a karaoke club. Embarrassing moments are sure to be had. Anyway, that’s all I have to say at this point. Feelings don’t really transfer so well into words in front of a computer. xoxoxox, Bianca
Back to work! I’ve come to the realization that work is a way of relaxing after crazy weekends of friends, traveling, and overall good times. This past weekend included Fourth of July celebrations and a whirlwind trip to Rome!
Thursday night the embassy hosted a massive event that had 3,000 invitees (approximately 1500 of which actually attended), and I worked as a pusher. I was posted at the VIP entrance, where I greeted ambassadors from various embassies across Bucharest, as well as the Romanian Prime Minister himself, Victor Ponta. My job was to make them feel welcome, and then escort them across the red carpet and into the main event. It was a lot of walking back and forth, commenting on the weather (which was horrible and rainy), and flashing them my winning smile to make them appreciate my feminine charm. Literally, my co-workers put me at this post because I’m an attractive young woman who can be admired by guests. I didn’t think the Department of State would be so blunt about shallow postings, but there it is. I did my job, and I did it fabulously. We had plenty of sponsors for the event, ranging from Starbucks to McDonald’s, and all of the food/drinks were free. We had important speakers, including Ponta, watched the marines do their little patriotic ceremony, and made sure the press didn’t interview/bother any guests. Although the weather was a bit of a hiccup, we actually ended up having a terrific event. I have plenty of mosquite/spider bites to show for it, and had a great time mingling with our guests.
Friday I hibernated most of the day from sheer exhaustion, and in the afternoon I jetted off to Rome. Thankfully I was able to find a direct flight, and landed in the city around 7:00pm. I had to take a train from the airport to the train station, which is where I met up with one of my greatest friends in the universe, Lindsay Kincade! I was so incredibly happy to see her, and we spent the rest of the night finding our way to the apartment we rented through AirBnb, which featured us getting super lost on the bus system and eventually finding our way. The next morning, we were up and ready to go for a day filled with sightseeing. We started by grabbing the metro to the Colosseum, and signed up for a tour of the inside. It’s an incredibly impressive structure, although it has been very worn down over the past 2,000 years. General decline of the Roman Empire meant the looting of the marble from the exterior, and natural events like massive earthquakes have left it at half of its original structure. It’s still insane history though, thinking about gladiators fighting exotic animals and how many beast/human lives were taken for mere amusement.
After touring the Colosseum, we continued on to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum, which is the gem of historical old-town Rome. There are various structures from throughout the ages, which are now categorized as ruins. I couldn’t help but imagine what the area looked like back in the midst of the Roman Empire. Newer buildings have been added to the mix in recent decades, particularly with the help of Benito Mussolini during the middle of the 20th century. He also had a summer mansion in the center of Palatine Hall, which seems very much his over-the-top style. We took picture after picture, trying to recreate the scenes we were seeing for later times when we’ll be missing the majesties of Roma, la citta bella. From there, we traversed to the Pantheon, which had sophisticated violin players that added to the classical feel of the domed structure. It was breathtaking, and honestly my favorite part of Rome. There is an elaborate circle cut out of the ceiling that allows for the building to be lit entirely by natural sunlight. The Trevi Fountain used to be my favorite part, but considering the fact that the fountain was out of commission and under construction, the Pantheon now takes the cake. I couldn’t even toss a coin for good luck, which means my love life is probably doomed forever without the divine intervention of Roman gods. After walking basically the entire city by foot, we decided to have a sit-down dinner at a restaurant, where we feasted upon Italian pizza while being serenaded by accordion-playing street musicians. The typical Italian experience, although I’m upset there was no vespa riding. That would have been the cherry on top. We were thoroughly exhausted, walked back through the Forum to see it all by night, and fell asleep within minutes of stepping into our apartment.
Day two included going to the Vatican by tram, where we met two very good-looking French guys that kindly informed us that the Pope would be speaking at noon. So we frantically rushed over to the center square, leaving the French guys trailing behind in the dust. We waited under the blisteringly hot sun until the Pope appeared at a window, giving a speech that was magnified to reverberate through the entire square. He spoke in Italian, although he is the first pope of South American descent, and commented on the importance of loving one another, particularly those who are living in Italy although it is not their native land. Coming from Arizona, it seemed to me to be a very gutsy move to speak about immigration. It’s a highly controversial and politicized topic, but I greatly appreciated his encouragement of accepting and integrating the immigrant masses who are actively working to better their lives. I felt honored to hear the Pope speak, particularly because he is such a badass and compassionate guy. After leaving the Vatican, Lindsay and I headed back down to the old center to look for the Spanish Steps. Unfortunately they were under construction too, including the church at the top as well as the fountain at the bottom of the steps. However, we were still able to admire the apartment that poet John Keats lived in, and take some pictures of the city from the overhead view. After deciding that we had seen the main tourist attractions and feeling super tired, we called it a day and sat down for some delicious pizza and gelato. When in Rome. Two days of walking left us tan, tired, dusty, and ready to go home. Rome is VERY touristy and hot and in the summertime, so I would like to go back one day in the far future when it’s not so crowded.
Monday was a total travel day, including me waiting at the airport to fly home. It was a two-hour flight that passed by very slowly, and Italy’s security is intense. I’m upset because they didn’t stamp my passport on the way out (even though they should have) because the guy at passport control was totally hitting on me and just winked at me to pass through without even opening my passport. This is how terrorism happens. Stupid, stupid. Anyway, now I’m back in Romania and already ready for this week to be over. My converter/adapter thing gave out on me and now I can’t charge any of my technology, or even use my straightener. Thankfully, my dad is flying into Bucharest on Wednesday due to an unforeseen family tragedy for my stepmom. It’ll be good to see another familiar face who can help me out, although I do wish it was under better circumstances. I only have this week and next week left in Bucharest, and next Saturday I fly to Timisoara to stay with family for ~10ish days. I am equally excited/sad to leave Bucharest, but we’ll see how I feel as the days go by. Here’s to hoping this week gets better, because I’m getting worn down by all the difficulties Europe has posed for me this trip. Hugs and kisses to all my friends and family back home!
Anyone else totally freaking out about the fact that it’s already July? That’s seven months after New Years, which I’m pretty sure was yesterday. I would also like a pat on the back for making another past within just a few days of my last one. I’m clearly on my A game.
Monday night was just lovely. I attended the farewell dinner of my economic supervisor, and I will be so sad to see her go. But I know that she has a lot of great adventures awaiting her in Caracas, Venezuela. She has been a huge source of support during my time in Bucharest, and I’m thankful to have had such a wise and friendly supervisor. A huge group of embassy employees banded together for dinner at Casa Boeme, which features traditional Romanian food. I ate my fair share of salata de vinete (eggplant salad), zacusca (a vegetable spread), pork and bacon rolls, and papanasi (a sour cream and jelly donut dessert). Plenty of wine was consumed, and plenty of conversation was had. I was so full afterwards that I spent the rest of the night in a food coma. You could say that I live by the phrase, “Eat well, travel often”.
We have a new intern in the Political Section that just joined us, so I have been working to help her get acclimated to the embassy lifestyle. It can be very overwhelming at first, so I’m trying to be as approachable and inclusive as possible. She seems very sweet, and I’m glad to have another young college lady hanging around to talk to at lunch.
Side note: I am officially published in the Department of State world! I wrote a cable on Romania’s 2013 foreign trade prospects that is about 5 pages, and needed approval from both my supervisor and the interim ambassador. They approved, and it has now been sent off to every other embassy/consulate in Europe, as well as Washington DC! Theoretically, this could be accessed by John Kerry right now… YASS.
Additionally, I woke up yesterday morning to the news that one of my greatest college friends got engaged in Italy! Stormy, you’ll probably never see this, but I am so excited for this new chapter in your life. You and Ethan are perfect for each other, and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for you both. I wish you the best the world has to offer!
Tomorrow is a HUGE event for the embassy - our annual fourth of July celebration. Here is one thing that I have a slight problem with. We are spending thousands and thousands of taxpayer dollars to mingle with important VIP guests, forge deeper connections, and ultimately just enjoy our night. There are plenty of American sponsors including Skittles, McDonald’s, etc. It will be a lavish event that will be attended by over 3,000 guests (which will include the Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta - I’m going for the selfie), and hopefully will look like a glamorous event out of Scandal or House of Cards. Not sure if I agree with this usage of such large sums of money, but I will enjoy it while I can.
I probably won’t post again before leaving for Rome on Friday afternoon, but I am so, so excited to be reunited with one of my best friends Lindsay in such a magical place. Until next time, interwebz!
Happy Monday! Here I am, sitting in my cubicle at the office, sipping a cup of coffee. I have to admit, I never really drank coffee before coming to Bucharest. And now, I have a hard time making it through the morning without some caffeine help. One little creamer and two packages of skinny Romanian sugar.
Last week was a tiring one, so I didn’t have much time to detail what’s going on in my life. Monday through Friday exhausted me, having to run back and forth across the city to help out at the summer camp for high school kids practicing their English. We would start out the day by introducing engaging American theater games to get them warmed up and awake, and then a variety of activities to help develop their vocabulary and get them feeling comfortable around one another. Around lunch time we would take an hour-long break, and then reconvene for the afternoon session to have them work on their projects. They were responsible for starting an ad campaign of some sort in groups of four or five. One group was for handmade items, and made bracelets, jewelry boxes, and T-shirts. Another group worked on various musical arrangements that they performed live on the last day, the third group made tutorials about soccer tricks, and the last group made a travel blog dedicated to popular tourist attractions in Bucharest. They made me so proud, and were so unbelievably bright. Romania’s biggest asset is the inspirational intelligence and dedication of its youth. But if older generations are constantly telling them to leave the country and invest their time/money in Spain/Italy/the US, then Romania will continue to progress at a glacial pace.
The summer camp’s students were not the only wonderful souls I met. My co-facilitators were a group of local actors, English teachers, and embassy co-workers that I got to be very close with. Thursday evening we made plans to grab drinks after camp ended for the day, and while I thought I would stay for around an hour or so, I ended up chatting with them for four hours. I really enjoyed their company, and am making plans to meet up with them sometime this week to try out a local Mexican restaurant. I am pretty picky with Mexican food, so hopefully it will be at least somewhat spicy… Romanians cannot handle spicy. Friday we went out for drinks again, but invited the students with us! We all hung around at a cafe called La Scena, and then grabbed dinner at Subway afterwards. I know, I know. I’m totally eating Subway in Romania. But you know what, sometimes a little taste of something familiar (even if it is just a sandwich) makes a big difference. After getting home, I was so exhausted that I spent the rest of my Friday night watching Orange is the New Black and resting. I had roughly four days last week that involved me being away from my apartment for more than 12 hours, so I needed to chill out and give my feet a rest.
Saturday I went to a co-worker’s apartment to watch the season premiere of True Blood (which I’ve never watched before and am not too sure if I’m interested in ever watching), but ate gin cucumbers and thoroughly enjoyed them. We then met up with a group of friends at Zen Sushi, and I was careful to order one of the few things on the menu that had absolutely no seafood in it. I ended up having a delicious chicken terriyaki dish with vegetable rice and Japanese beer, and had a blast laughing with everyone else who was there. From there, we went to another co-worker’s apartment for another round of drinks on their candlelit terrace, and finally hit old town to check out the club scene. Because some of my co-workers are gay, we went to the only gay bar in Bucharest (no mom, I’m not gay) and danced (no mom, not with any lesbians) :). The only difference between this bar and any other bar was that there were a lot more men who were fabulously dressed. I stayed for about an hour, realized the gay bar was fun but definitely not my scene, and then went over to another club named Bordello to meet up with some Spanish friends for a birthday party. Lots of fun, lots of dancing, lots of good music, and lots of exhaustion. Got home very late/early, and slept a lot of Sunday. Upon waking up, I got out of the house and did some walking around Parcul Herastrau, came back and did some laundry, and watched Mexico get robbed by the Netherlands in the World Cup.
Today I’m feeling good because the sun is finally shining after weeks and weeks of rain, and the weather is nice and warm (mid-eighties). I’m waking up every morning before my alarm clock, at around 6:30 or so, because it’s so bright in the room for a change. I have a lot of fun things planned this week including a farewell dinner tonight, Mexican food Tuesday, Thai food Wednesday, a fourth of July embassy celebration on Thursday, and a flight to Rome on Friday! Looking forward to it all, and I’m excited to keep a smile on my face :) Hope all my family and friends are doing well, I miss you all!
I have been busy, busy, busy, and finally feeling like I’ve figured things out. This past weekend was much needed. I had a rough mid-trip week last week, but on Saturday and Sunday I spent time with some family that I have here in Bucharest and I feel totally refreshed. Saturday I spent walking around pretty much every park in Bucharest with my stepmom’s aunt (who I just met on this trip), and trying to solve the world’s problems. She’s a truly fantastic woman who I appreciate greatly. Sunday, I went on a road trip with her, her husband, their son Ionut, and a niece named Dumi to a monastery named Curtea de Arges. There’s a Romanian legend that says the builder of the monastery buried his dead wife in one of the walls to give the building stronger spiritual presence, but I don’t know if that’s true in the slightest. A little creepy, that’s for sure. The building itself is thoroughly impressive, and I took plenty of pictures. I can admire the architecture of monasteries and cathedrals, but I don’t feel God there. I feel surrounded by icons and statues that mean nothing to me, and I end up feeling intimidated and uncomfortable for some reason. I feel a stronger spiritual connection to the world and universe when I am in a beautiful place in nature that was formed naturally, rather than manmade. End religious rant.
After checking out the monastery and buying some souvenirs, we hopped back in the car and started driving on the Transfagarasan Road, which winds through the Carpathian Mountains. Because there is such heavy snowfall during the winter months, the road is only open briefly during the summer months. The view from the road is just spectacular. You see mountains, rivers, cliffs, wildlife - it makes you feel so small, yet so significant. I don’t know how to better explain it. We drove until we reached Cetatea Poienari, which is Dracula’s fortress on top of this hill overlooking a valley. History says that Romanian soldiers would launch attacks on encroaching Turks during the Ottoman Empire days. To get to the fortress, we had to climb up 1500 steps, which let me tell you, still has my calves sore a few days after. It was an arduous hike, but the view made it so worthwhile. Walking up the stairs, you see dummies impaled on sharp spikes, bridges with questionable railings, and then suddenly the huge imposing brick structure. We had the misfortune of being there at the same time as a group of schoolkids who were loud and obnoxious, but it was still a great experience. Definitely a must see. After the fortress, we had a super filling lunch and kept driving onwards to this dam that was constructed in the middle of a huge lake. It made the Hoover Dam look super weak and small, but the views were just incredible. The water was a beautiful greenish blue color, but it made me sad to see how polluted the water is. Romanians are a little slow on environmental protection, so they will just go camping and throw their 2-liter water or soda bottles into rivers. It’s devastating to see this and how little is done to fix this problem.
Overall, the day was exactly what I needed. I felt better being outside, soaking up the sunshine after a long week of cold rain, and I felt the love of a family that I’ve been missing. I got back Sunday evening feeling exhausted, but totally refreshed also. This week has been insanely busy so far. I have been helping out with a summer camp for high school kids who are practicing their English skills, and this involves me traversing the city of Bucharest twice a day. Long commutes are terrible I’ve decided. They totally wipe you out, particularly when buses don’t use air conditioning and you are literally sweating a waterfall. But the summer camp has been so rewarding, and the students have been learning so much. They impress me every day, and are such a good group. I’ll be sad when it all comes to an end. In addition to that, I’ve been working on a report about environmental sustainability initiatives in Romania, as well as another on Romania’s foreign trade statistics for the year of 2013. Sounds less than thrilling, but it’s actually really interesting to see what trade partners Romania interacts with most, and where the majority of the country’s exports go. Romania is a really resource-rich country that has the potential to earn a lot of money and be an impressive trade partner for world powers.
Last night, I went to yet another farewell bash for a co-worker in the Economic Section who is headed back to DC. Foreign service is awesome, but people are constantly coming/going. It’s hard to make lasting contacts when everyone is relocating every three years or less. The bash itself was great fun though - we ate plenty of Spanish paella, drank plenty of Romanian wine, and watched the sun set from a rooftop terrace. When life is crappy, it’s really crappy. But when life is amazing, it’s truly wonderful and awe-inspiring. I’m sad that I’m just now starting to hit my groove when I have less than a month left in Bucharest. This has been a post, hope it was somewhat interesting!
Man, does the time fly by. Here are my updates for you:
I’m slowly but surely conquering my fear of cockroaches. They are definitely still a problem, but I now have this ridiculously effective and ridiculously toxic Russian bug spray that kills them all. I spray every corner of my apartment, leave for a few hours, and then sleep soundly at night. Mornings I’ve grown accustomed to cleaning up the dead ones. It’s not so bad anymore. Apparently they’re renovating an apartment right below mine, so that’s the root of the problem. Roaches: 1, Bianca: 10. You won the first night, but I’m holding down the fort.
It’s rainy. It’s been rainy all week. It’s the middle of June and I’m wearing sweaters/jackets/pants. It’s cold. Bucharest has a horrible drainage system so everything just floods and gets muddy. It is nice to get a break from the unbearable humidity though.
I had to say goodbye to my lovely Carolyn last night. She’s headed back to Washington D.C. after four months in Bucharest, and I will miss her so much. She was my main support system in getting adjusted and meeting both embassy people and locals. Because of her I felt a lot less lonely, and I’ll miss having her around to have wine nights with. No worries - a trip to D.C. will happen in the near future. We went to old town and had drinks at two different bars with some interns from the Norwegian and Danish embassies, and I had a really wonderful time.
This week was a hard one, and there were moments when I called home crying and wanted to hop on the first plane home. I’m not ashamed to admit that not every moment of traveling is going to be marvelous. There are times when things just suck (namely when you wake up surrounded by a cockroach infestation) and you want to call it quits. Living by myself can be difficult, but I find it to be a challenge that pushes me to grow and learn new things every day. For example, I now have a delicious omelette recipe. For every bad day, there are ten glorious days where the sun is shining, the city is beautiful, and the people put a big smile on your face.
I’m feeling better and have a fun weekend planned. Tonight I believe I will be going dancing, tomorrow I am meeting up with family, and on Sunday I am going on a day trip to Curtea de Arges, which is a monastery in a mountain town about two hours away. With just over a month left in Bucharest, I intend to make the most of it. I am extraordinarily blessed.
WARNING: For those of you who don’t like bug stories and feel queasy and/or nauseous at the mention of cockroaches, do not continue reading!!
For those of you who can handle stories of these disgusting creatures, this shall be a somewhat entertaining and appalling post. Bear with me here.
Last night started out wonderfully. I was invited to a farewell dinner for a co-worker who will be moving back to Washington, D.C. next week. I enjoyed a delicious dinner of chicken and potatoes, and then went to a wine bar with the same group to indulge in a few bottles of Prosecco. I really had a great time sitting out on the terrace of the wine bar, surrounded by a group of rambunctious and funny people who made me laugh so much that my ab workout need is met for the week. I went home, took a shower, watched some soccer for a bit, and then slipped off into dreamland as per usual.
At about 1:30 in the morning, I wake up suddenly. I wasn’t entirely sure what woke me up at first, but then I realized there was a rustling sound coming from beside my bed. There was an empty plastic bag that I had left on the floor, and it seemed as though something was inside it. I thought maybe there was wind coming in from the window, but no such luck. After a few seconds, a large black cockroach comes crawling out of the bag. I freeze and just start repeating a mantra of “this can’t be happening, this can’t be happening”. But suddenly, I see another scurrying off in the other corner of the room. Pardon my expression, but I LOST MY SHIT.
I jumped up on the bed, start crying hysterically, and shouting profanities in a variety of languages that I prefer not to repeat on tumblr. I wanted to run out of my apartment, but it was around 2:00 in the morning and I had nowhere to go. None of my friends live close to me, and I was not about to run off into the darkness where more of these ghastly creatures were sure to be hiding. After a few moments, I run off into the kitchen because I figured I was safer in another room. NOPE. There was another little abomination scurrying around in the kitchen, and a fourth hiding under the door to the bathroom. At this point, I was feeling like maybe the end of the world had happened while I was sleeping, and I was the last one to have survived besides the cockroaches. Basically, I felt like I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone.
I leap back into my bed like a graceful and terrified gazelle, and make the most logical decision that I can stand to make in such a perilous situation. I call my mother. Who is 6500 miles away from me in Arizona, watching the Korea vs. Russia soccer game. When she picks up the phone I am hyperventilating and mumbling incoherently, and she’s immediately on protective mother bear alert. She is freaking out, “WHAT IS WRONG BABY?! BABY!” and I’m just rambling nonsensically about how I want to come home because there’s a cockroach army conquering my apartment. She kind of sighs a little and starts chuckling, and I’m just like, “MOOOOOM this is NOT funny”. In hindsight, it’s totally funny. But despite the fact that she’s 6500 miles away and there is a cockroach infestation in my household, she manages to calm me down enough to speak actual English. She tries to encourage me to kill the suckers, but there wasn’t any chance in hell that I was going to do that. So we decide my best bet is to call the owner of the apartment to see what they can do.
I call. I feel stupid calling about this. The owner answers and sends this burly handyman to come to the rescue. I wait on the phone with my mom until aforementioned burly handyman knocks on my door and saves the day. He comes with his deadly bug spray, and kills the shit out of all of the cockroaches he sees. I didn’t let him leave until he checked under the bed, under the curtains, in the bathroom, etc. Finally the battle is over, and the cockroach army has been vanquished. I feel a little better, but every time my pajama pants brush against my leg I have a mini heart attack imagining a crawling creature climbing onto me. I finally fell asleep at around 4 in the morning, but naturally I had left all the lights on in my apartment. Thankfully I didn’t die from the bug spray, and burly handyman is coming back today to dispose of other dead cockroaches I found in the morning and to spray once again.
I can handle robbers and gypsies and butt-smacking teenagers, but I cannot handle bugs. I feel a little embarrassed. Okay, a lot embarrassed, but they were huge!! Apparently in the rainy season, they climb up shower/sink drains so I’m gonna plug the hell out of those and be on high alert for the next week. That’s what sucks the most about living alone and not really knowing my neighbors.
Well that’s my excitement for the day. I’m just glad to be back in the embassy, unafraid of what creepy-crawlies are hanging around under my desk. Well actually, let me just check real fast…
Good morning Romania/good night America,
It’s 10:00 in the morning Bucharest time, and I am struggling through my first day back at work after my absolutely magical trip to Istanbul. This entire week is supposed to be rainy and cold, and I find myself covering my new bronze tan with scarves and sweaters. How I’m already missing the sun on my skin.
Cedar and I left for the airport at around 3:00pm Friday afternoon, and boarded Tarom flight 263 for an hour-long flight to Ataturk Airport on the European side of Istanbul. The flight passed by incredibly quickly, and I was so incredibly excited to check off a much-anticipated trip from my bucket list. The airport was clean, the people were friendly, but Turkish is impossible to understand. I’ve come to the conclusion that Turkish is a mixture between Greek and Arabic, but some words in Romanian are also of Turkish descent. For example, the word for ‘orange’ in Turkish is portakal, while in Romanian it is portocale. Another example is ‘sock’, which in Turkish is çorap (the accent under the C making it a CH sound), and in Romanian it is ciorap. Basically the two words are identical. With my little knowledge of Turkish we were able to survive the weekend. Hand gestures and smiling always help too.
From the airport, we decided to live like the Turkish and figure out public transportation, which ended up being incredibly efficient and clean. We hopped on a metro that left from inside the metro, and then switched to a tram for about an hour. It took forever to understand how to gain access to the public transportation, but we paid four lira (about $2) for a token, which we inserted into the turnstile and passed through. Fairly cheap. We passed stop after stop, with names like Zeytinburnu and Sultanahmet, but finally reached our stop at Karakoy. From there we consulted our handy airport map, which had no street names, and kind of fumbled our way through town until we found the Galata Tower. Our hostel, named Rapunzel Hostel, was located a hop, skip, and a jump away from one of the most historic landmarks in all of Istanbul, which was constructed in the 1400s. Now THAT is history, not the Liberty Bell.
We finally found our hostel, which was across the street from an eye doctor, and settled in. Our room was a 6-bed female room, with three bunk beds in a relatively small space. But it was clean, had lockers, and its own bathroom, so I have no complaints. We also had free breakfast, and everyone knows that free food is the way to my heart. The rest of the night was spent wandering the streets of our neighborhood, looking through small shops, and then sitting on the rooftop terrace of our hostel mingling with the extremely cool hostel owners and other guests that ranged in origin from Russia to New Zealand to Sweden. The Swedish man had ridden his bike from northern Sweden all the way to Istanbul, and was continuing throughout Turkey and back on up through Russia. The two Turkish owners were male, and were the absolute most rad guys. One was a man with a beard and a shaved head, except for a small patch of hair that he kept in a ponytail on top of his head. The other man was probably the most attractive man I’ve ever seen in my life, and I really couldn’t have a conversation with him without stumbling over my words. The majority of Turkish men are extraordinarily good-looking with dark, Mediterranean features and great facial hair. Just my type. And surprisingly, a lot of them have light-colored eyes, like green or blue. I was in awe everywhere I went. It was interesting though, because many, many people told me that I look Turkish as well. I’ll take it.
As we were sitting on the rooftop terrace, we heard the dusk call to prayer ring from mosques across Istanbul, echoing across the expanse of hillside and bustling city. The mosques were lit up, and their large domed structure with a pointed tower on each side were visible from any point. The call to prayer almost sounds mournful, but requires for the imam to sing in a very melancholic and traditional sounding way. It’s slightly eerie, but mostly beautiful. Muslims pray five times a day according to the sun - once at dawn (requiring them to wake up at 5 in the morning every day), when the sun is at its highest point (noonish), between lunch and dinner (3ish), around dinner time (5ish), and then when the sun has completely set (around 9ish). The view from the terrace is absolutely breathtaking, and the call to prayer provided us with the appropriate soundtrack for the full cultural experience.
The next morning was Saturday, and we knew we had plenty to do. We started off by making our way to the ferry station to catch a ride from our dock in Karaköy-Eminönü across the Bosphorus to the Asian side in Üsküdar. We ended up catching the wrong ferry, but the ferry captain felt bad for us, so he sent his colleague to the right ferry station so that we could follow him and get back on the right track. To board the ferry it was another four lira, but we were on our way. We took plenty of pictures of the Istanbul seaside and some of the urban cityscape reminded me of Venice with its architecture. We finally got to Üsküdar and started walking around, enjoying the slower pace and smaller amount of tourists. Istanbul is a city of 16 million people, and with the large amount of tourists that visit constantly, the city can get crowded and chaotic. Üsküdar was very calm, and we were able to eat kebaps and donors in peace. The food is delicious, and a popular fast dish is comprised of chicken that is skewered and spiced, and then sliced down from the sides to create a sandwich or wrap. So so good. Many of our servers were Syrian refugees, and hearing their stories was heartbreaking. They left their bombed and destroyed homes in search of something, anything. My heart hurts just thinking about their kind faces.
After exploring Asia for a bit, we got back on a ferry to the European side and went in search of the Grand Bazaar. There were piles after piles of spices, pomegranate and apple teas, Turkish delight candy, trinkets with the blue eye of luck, bracelets, scarves, bath towels straight from the loom, and people as far as the eye could see. The vendors would call out to me, “hey Lady Gaga” or “hey Angelina”. Sometimes they would speak to me in French or Spanish, but mostly in English. They were pushy, but not nearly as pushy as in Marrakech. I bought some things, mostly gifts for friends and family, and mingled with the Turkish salesmen who were not shy about flirting with me. Street performers were everywhere, including a man playing the bagpipes with extreme talent. There are also stand after stand of men selling fresh orange and grapefruit juice, which is extremely refreshing on hot and dry days.
After the bazaar proved to be total sensory overload, Cedar and I left and decided to go to Taksim Square. For those of you not familiar with Taksim Square, it is the place where the Turkish Revolution was occurring about a year ago. People were killed as a part of the Arab Spring, and it is a place that garners a lot of international attention and media coverage.As I walked through the area, my inner International Affairs major was going crazy. I felt that I was in a place of great importance. Though nothing happened while I was there, truck after truck of riot police drove by us with cameras on their roofs. Policemen with shields stood at attention beside the crowds, with tear gas cannisters strapped to their backs and huge guns in their arms. I’m not sure if they were on standby for some sort of threat or if it was just a show of force, but it was intimidating. In countries like Turkey, it is unclear whether you feel more safe or less safe when surrounded by such a powerful police force.
We had dinner in a restaurant overlooking Taksim Square, and then went to grab beers at a bar on a rooftop terrace close by. Such a vibrant night life with belly dancers dancing their way through restaurants, accompanied by Turkish drummers and clarinet players for that traditional sound. It was unbelievable - we had such a hard time finding the bars at first because you have to look up, not around you. They’re all on the rooftops of tall buildings with overlooking views. So, so cool. We finally called it a day at around midnight, headed back to our hostel, and spent the next eight hours recharging our extremely worn batteries and getting ready for another day of sightseeing.
Sunday morning we headed straight for the main tourist attractions. We saw Topkapi Palace, which is located in the middle of this beautiful and expansive park, and then two incredible mosques. We saw the Ayasofia, but only from the outside since the line was incredibly long and the entrance fee was 30 lira. Very expensive, and I’m assuming the Ayasofia is only a museum now and not a functional mosque since they could charge an entrance fee. On the other end of the plaza, there was the Blue Mosque, which is notorious for its elegant architecture. It is still a functional mosque, so visitors had to enter from the back entrance. As we were funneled through the line, we were asked to take off our shoes and cover ourselves with scarves. The scarves had to be covering our head and shoulders, and if we weren’t wearing pants or skirts that covered our legs, we had to wear a scarf covering our legs entirely. Out of respect for the mosque, I had no problem doing so. We finally got into the mosque, and the architecture was absolutely exquisite. The ceiling was tiled and painted with blue designs and patterns, and the rugs below our feets emanated royalty and luxury. I took picture after picture and was blown away. The Blue Mosque is definitely a must-see.
After taking the time to do that, we headed back to our hostel to unwind for a bit before catching our flight. Sightseeing in the brutal sun is totally exhausting, and by this time our legs were destroyed and sore. We had traversed across two continents and all of Istanbul by foot, and we were feeling it. I am still soooo tired, and truly need a break. As our flight time got closer, we made our way back to the airport. We had spent all of our lira, except for the six lira that we thought we needed for the remaining public transportation costs to return to the airport. Unfortunately, it was eight lira, not six. So when we arrived to our stop, we had a bit of a crisis trying to figure out how this was going to work. Where we going to beg? Maybe sing and dance and try our hand as street performers? We were able to sneak onto the platform through the handicapped entrance, but then realized we were on the wrong side. That’s karma for you. We started asking people how to get to the other side, and one man who spoke very good English gave us directions to the other side, and then told the guards to let us in for free on the other side, which they actually did. I am thankful to the universe every day for the kind strangers who have gotten me out of seemingly dead-ended situations with grace.
Finally at the airport, I was extremely late in catching my flight, but somehow managed to get through security and passport control fast enough to make it. The plane ended up having an hour delay, but I got back to Bucharest at around 9:00pm, early enough to call my dad and wish him a happy Father’s Day. All in all, I’ve decided that Istanbul is my favorite city in the world, followed by Barcelona. I will definitely go back to visit again. The people were extremely friendly, the city was clean, the public transportation was efficient, and I never felt afraid of pickpocketers or thieves. I felt safer in Istanbul than I feel in Bucharest. It’s a city with great acceptance and diversity where you can see a group of women sitting around and talking to one another - one wearing shorts, another wearing a floral headscarf, and a third wearing full burqa. All of these fashions are accepted, though I felt most comfortable wearing pants and a T-shirt. I bought plenty of things (which I won’t disclose so as to keep gifts a secret), and took plenty of pictures to commemorate this fantastic trip. Until next time Istanbul, teşekkür ederim.
I have officially been in Bucharest for about three weeks. Some days it feels like I’ve been here three days, and others it feels like I’ve been here three years. I learn so much every day about the city, its culture, and its people - for better or for worse. Living alone requires for me to be entirely self-sufficient, which ranges between killing spiders in my bathtub to figuring out how to do grocery shopping with new products to navigating public transportation. As a woman, all of these activities place me at a much higher level of vulnerability and risk than a man traveling alone. Typically this doesn’t phase me, but lately I’ve felt very worn down by the way the world treats women.
This isn’t a “I hate men” campaign. This isn’t meant to be a feminist rant. This isn’t specifically pointed towards men, because women also help to perpetuate this to some extent. These are the thoughts of a twenty year-old woman living and working in Bucharest, Romania who considers herself to be moderately attractive, relatively thin, and someone who dresses conservatively. These are the thoughts of a woman who is tired of being objectified, of getting the “up and down” look from passing men, and of being touched without her consent.
Although this may seem to be a strange post for a travel blog, I feel like this is one of the most important topics that travelers, particularly female travelers, must be knowledgeable about. In the aftermath of the Santa Barbara shooting, where a 22 year-old male virgin shot and killed six innocent people who were sexually active, the concept of entitlement and misogynism rises to the public agenda. This young male was repeatedly denied sexual gratification by these women who did not feel attracted to him. In response, this man felt entitled enough to their bodies to end their lives and also the lives of their male partners, who they may or may not have been sexually active with. In response to this tragedy, the #YesAllWomen campaign exploded onto social networking sites to bring attention to the sexual abuse women are subjected to culturally and socially. This campaign redirects focus from blaming women for dressing provocatively or “leading men on” to addressing the mentality men have that women are “asking for it”.
Yesterday evening, I was walking through Park Herastrau, the largest park in Bucharest. It is very beautiful, and has a lake located right in the middle of it. There are always people on the sidewalk that surrounds the lake, either jogging or walking or rollerblading. I was walking with my friend Cedar, who had just arrived from Denver and needed to stretch her legs. We were in the middle of a conversation, when a group of teenage to twenty year-old men rode by on their bikes loudly and obnoxiously. They were yelling and wolf-whistling, and I walked to the edge of the sidewalk so as to avoid them as much as possible. Instead, one of the men on the bikes went out of his way to come up behind me, smack my ass, and laugh loudly while high-fiving his friend and continuing to ride away. A little further down, the same man smacked another woman’s ass as she was jogging. She looked around bewildered, and I could see the way she looked behind her anxiously every time another bike rode by her.
Because Cedar was freshly in town, I tried to play it off as stupid teenagers having their fun. Inside, I was fuming. I felt objectified, contaminated, dirty. I was a sexualized object, a piece of meat. This singular event may seem relatively unimportant, but it was the cherry on top of accumulating frustration and anger towards invasive men. Each night at the club involves pulling random hands on my body who feel entitled enough to touch me without my permission. Random guys walking down the street will walk up to me, stand in front of me, and push me away as I try to walk by them just so that they can look at me and compliment me. Like I need their compliments, or am reassured in my femininity by hearing their vulgar comments. I am a woman who feels confident in her sexuality and in her independence, and I would rather die than rely on the validation of my appearance or overall character from a partner, much less a stranger.
The #YesAllWomen campaign is important. It is not comprised of “feminazis” who have butch haircuts and wear cutoff jeans shirts. It is comprised of everyday women who feel repulsed by the ways many men feel the need to conduct themselves in the presence of females. Rather than courting or dating, many men feel entitled to make decisions concerning the bodies of their female counterparts. This is bullshit. Women are strong, women are beautiful, and women are intelligent. Each individual woman should feel empowered enough to make decisions about their body and well-being. Men should be educated to respect decisions that women make, and women should be educated to respect decisions that men make. Although females are predominantly victimized, males also fall victim to this harmful ideology.
Rape culture not only exists in the United States. As bad as it is there, it is ten times worse in most places around the world. This is influenced by culture, expected gender roles, and a number of other variables. In Romania, men are raised from early on to dominate the household, and to see women as homemakers whose role involves cooking, cleaning, and being a sexual object. They must constantly be served, because as the man they are ultimately the boss. Just because it is worse in other places does not mean it doesn’t exist in the US, but it is imperative to recognize its presence internationally. In places like India, where young girls are raped and killed in massive gang rapes. In Saudi Arabia, where girls younger than ten are married off to wealthy old men who make sexual decisions for them. In Romania, where I no longer feel safe to walk in a park without being groped. Changing the mentality of men does not happen overnight, and in response, women are left to “take care of themselves”. To walk with pepper spray, to not make eye contact with anyone on the bus late at night, and to dress conservatively so as not to draw in unwanted stares.
This angers me. I am so angry. Each intrusion is traumatizing to how women view themselves and how they trust men. For men reading this, do your part to respect not only your partners, but random women walking down the street. Before flirting or trying to date these women, wonder whether they want this kind of attention at all. They did not dress nicely for you, they dressed nicely for themselves. For women reading this, do not feel validated in your womanhood and beauty by the wolf whistles of hormonal men. Know how to defend yourself, but also know how to educate men and women around you to think differently and more respectfully. It’s a slow process, but an important one. For victims of this abuse, you are not alone. There are communities to help you, and people who truly care about your story and its effects on your well-being. Let’s take care of one another, and change this world for the better. Let’s create a space where all people feel safe and unafraid. Because everyone deserves that, everyone.
So I’ve decided to stop promising picture posts, because apparently even simple text posts have become too much of a bother for me. The last week has been extraordinarily busy at work and even socially, so let me catch you up on the basics.
I moved into my new studio apartment, which is so quaint and cute and I absolutely love it. It’s located in Piata Baneasa, which is much closer to the embassy (only about four bus stops away), but much farther away from the city center where most historical points, restaurants, and nightclubs are located. However, because I live in beautiful suburbia, there is a plethora of parks, grassy areas, lakes, and outdoor activities all around me. Rather than hearing traffic when I open the windows, I hear children playing at the playground and birds chirping from the trees. Right outside the front door to my building is Park Herastrau, which has a lake with a perimeter that is approximately 3.5 miles. One of my first days in the new apartment I spent walking around the entire perimeter of the lake, listening to my iPod and taking pictures of lakeside restaurants, rose bushes, and the sun setting through the trees. Sitting in an office cubicle for nearly nine hours each day makes me so restless that being able to walk around in nature for about an hour and a half is so perfect and necessary.
On the work front, I’ve been working on a nomination for an award sponsored by the U.S. government that recognizes corporations who are dedicated to sustainable practices. That can include anything from using environmentally-friendly processes, providing workshops or summer internships for newly graduated youth that need work experience, teaming up with non-governmental organizations that protect worker’s rights, women’s rights, and opposition to child labor. We are sifting through U.S.-based companies with branches in Romania, like Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, Proctor & Gamble, and Delphi. This requires me calling human resources departments in Bucharest for each company and requesting a sort of CV for 2013-2014, and then drafting a nomination that will be send to the feds for consideration.
I’ve also been on a team working with Universal Romania, which is a record label that is putting together a music festival that will offer a grand prize of a trip to New York for a concert. We’re working out the budgets, helping to select an American artist to perform in Bucharest, and figuring out travel arrangements for the grand prize winners to get to New York for another concert.
I went to a conference last week that was called EU 2020, and it invited European Commission representatives to come to the National Institute of Statistics in old town Bucharest for a report on Romania’s current state of affairs. The EU mandates certain levels that Romania must reach by 2020, and each year delivers a report that measures progress or lack thereof. These measurements are for unemployment rates, the amount of social exclusion (particularly for the Roma people), emissions reductions, and healthcare accessibility. There were a lot of speakers that mostly spoke in Romania, although I had a hard time understanding some of the formal business vocabulary and the translators were mediocre at best. It wasn’t totally thrilling, but I learned a lot and it got me out of the office for the day.
Additionally, I gave a presentation at the American Corner for the Romanian National Library about American pop culture from the 1940s to the 2010s. There were approximately 15 high school students in attendance, and there was amazing participation! They got the opportunity to practice their English-speaking skills, and I got to test their knowledge about American music, fashion, historical events, TV shows, and movies throughout the decades. It was so much fun, and I’ll be doing it once again tomorrow for another group of students.
This past weekend was a three-day weekend for a religious holiday. It was some Romanian Orthodox holiday that I know nothing about, but I don’t particularly care because I got another day of R&R. But this weekend I met up with some family that kindly offered up their home to me for a night, so I spent time with them eating pizzas on terraces and watching movies at their apartment. I was so moved by their generosity, and came to the realization that the people with the least oftentimes give the most to others. The other nights were spent exploring the glorious nightlife, and attending a party hosted by Darren, one of my co-workers. On my day off, I watched episodes from season 2 of Orange is the New Black, caught up on Game of Thrones, and figured out how to successfully do my laundry at my new apartment (aww yiss).
Tonight my lovely and magical friend Cedar is flying into Bucharest to stay with me for the week, and Friday we’re off to Istanbul! My Turkish visa is bought, my hostel is booked, and my plane ticket is all set. I cannot wait, and will probably take millions of pictures of mosques and bazaars and all the other wonders Turkey has to offer. Lots of good things coming up, so I am focused on staying rested and eating healthy. I’m tapping out of this post for now, much love to my family and friends back home! Sorry if I’m being neglectful - life is just particularly busy and crazy right now!