The time was 7 AM, we had been awake for 3 hours stranded for 6. Finally, military vehicles arrived on scene to load us up and transport us to a nearby town for a warm cup of tea and shelter. This is how my first Eurotrip came to an end. Within 17 days, I traveled to eight cities, used four types of currency, utilized seven different types of public transportation, spoke in three languages, and slept in/on too many creative surfaces to account for.
My first abstract, cash-strapped European living travel experience was nothing short of remarkable. After a half a year of Peace Corps existence, I was finally able to satisfy the chief objective that lead me to apply in the first place: see the world. A recent example used to illustrate my beloved Baltimore Ravens atrocious final stretch of the season also sheds light on my previous month: Chesapeake Bay striper fishermen know that you can often catch the prize bass by bouncing your bait off the bottom of the sea near rocky outcrops. A bizarre, haphazard practice can turn out some pretty ridiculous results just as this experience did. My journey consisted of three very dissimilar elements:
1st Leg: Frugal World Traveler – Athens, Greece
While it actually took me almost a full era to reach my first destination, it was well worth the wait. Traveling as a group, 10 of us Moldova volunteers confined ourselves to an apartment. While it can’t be depicted as small – seeing as how our host, a wonderful woman and mother of a fellow volunteer, appears to be a high roller in the Diplomatic world – we inaugurated mass sleeping techniques and schedules. We ‘noshed on what was cheap, observed what was complimentary (minus the Acropolis), and just enjoyed each others company over liquor of shameful prices and shared horror stories of our journey’s thus far. Walking through one of the most awesome flea markets and eating gyro’s on the street may not have been pricey, but it sure was priceless. Leave it to Peace Corp peeps to think outside the box on creating a memory, but on Christmas morning we shed our clothes and jumped into the Mediterranean for our very own polar bear plunge. Developing countries and an inconvenient lifestyle will not strip us of our traditions.
2nd Leg: American Toruist – Paris, France
For which it stands, one nation…. No, but really. Feeling American again is not a sensation to be underestimated. Paris was beautiful. I stayed in the heart of the city in a gorgeous hotel with even better company. This was straight up tourism, and I’m damn proud of it. Hit all of the hotspots, from the top of the eiffel tower to the gardens of Versailles topped off with the most tawdy of all cliché boat tours. It was freakin’ gorgeous, all of it. While I will always remember ringing in 2013 in Paris, the tainted perspective that Moldova has left me with will probably forever accompany the reminiscence. It was the homeless sleeping in the metros, the overheard complaints in the high-end restaurants, and the vivid disregard of lesser parts of humanity that kept this trip from flawless. In a country so diverse and affluent in culture, the disparities were pertinent yet disdained. I guess my fresh vocation has fashioned a soft and curious spot in my heart.
3rd Leg: Local livin’– Brasov/Bran, Romania
Now this one was unexpected. I arrived back in Moldova via a plane that looked like it should have been a historic archetype for inadequate engineering; Standing at 5’8 on a good day, my head was bordering the ceiling of this brittle jet. Once indebtedly stepping off after landing and kissing the ground, I was regretting my decision to continue my travels and just wanted a big bed and an unsoiled wardrobe. The overnight bus left my neck tender and my mood worse, but the minute I stepped out I realized I didn’t give Romania enough credit. It wasn’t just the actuality that the overlooked country was beautiful, especially covered in a thin blanket of snow. It was the attitudes surrounding my sour-puss ass. Here I was, irritable after Greece and Paris, alongside colleagues who have not only taken me in as their own but invited me on what might be their lone vacation during my entire service. Also take into account that the „old” christmas, the Moldovan version, is celebrated on the 7th of January – and I am now a part of one of their most precious occasions. Gave myself a smack in the face and instantly adjusted to a new aura. We hit 5 cities in four days, got to a ski resort, enjoyed numerous plush meals, and sang more songs than the number of lyrics I didn’t understand. It was magnificent and astonishing – whether it was playing tag in the snow with the Director (much my elder) or being pulled on a sleigh by my Moldovan colleagues. On Christmas morning, the older ladies (in their 50’s and 60’s) pulled out a bottle of homemade cherry moonshine on the bus and passed around the glass as we each took celebratory shots. Ever done shots with a 65+ year old woman? At 10 AM? It had the subtelty of a switchblade.
My returning route was not as smooth. The bus got stuck in heavy snowfall and thick ice and we were stranded until the Romanian army came to pick us up. Walking outside was a sight straight out of an Antartica documentary where the wind and snow was so rapid and bitter, eyes couldn’t be open for more than an instant and no skin could be exposed. Not to worry though, once we reached our safe and warm building, out came the moonshine again! Truly Moldovan.
I am certainly not the same traveler as my former self. My ear has settled to a hightened sense of language akin to my eyes trained for dearth in any situation. Audibly, I took in Arabic, French, Greek, Romanian, ENGLISH, Chinese, and Spanish. Duck tape became shoe repair, a bathtub substituted as a laundromat, a bed and clean bathrooms served as temporary heavan. I bestowed more mind to the people around me than the Eiffel Tower or the Parthenon. Bus drivers became fascinating friends, strangers became tour guides, and I certainly have no trepidation of becoming lost. The facts emerge: I must come to terms with being bussed out to a runway and walking on to my plane and seldom will I be able to travel without this mental angle if I am going to continue down this path. As my colleague and friend so stylishly put it: these breaks aren’t for the kids, these are times of distancing ourselves to reflect and reward ourselves. Six months ago, I didn’t speak this language, I was not a teacher, and most importantly, I didn’t hold this world and other cultures in such high regard. It has been so easy to succumb to the stress and the disadvantages, and no doubt they will continue but for now I am going to keep pushing through with this dubious journey while I still have the mentality to view the world as beautiful and affectionate in all its’ glory.
Nevertheless, I find myself back in Moldova where dinner on the table is a half a bird that couldn’t of taken its final breath more than several hours prior and suffering from a case of the travelers’ blues. What should have been an anticipated lifestyle acclimation was much harder than originally thought. Feeling once again stripped of friends and an adventerous comfort zone, I must backwards adapt to the Peace Corps lifestyle I was previously accustomed to. They say the first 6-months are the hardest, but now able to speak the language and established in the village, I am certainly feeling the pressure to create my legacy.
**Give me a few days, but I will get photos posted to Facebook, as well as update the rest of this page when I can catch my breath. I haven’t said it enough, but thank you to all reading this for your kind words and loving support.