London: In the City of Clouds (Seriously There’s Never Any Sun Here)

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When I first arrived in London, I saw snow. BLOODY SNOW. After being in the marvelous heat of Morocco, I knew I was going to be in for a rough month in this land which inspired the Beatles to get so excited over seeing the sun that they actually wrote a song about it.

So far, I have mixed feelings about London. In a way it is the most difficult city I have traveled to because it does not fit neatly into my routine of staying busy enough to not miss home but relaxed enough to not burn out. London is one of those places where you have to search for the fascinating bits of the city. The raw reality is not readily visible to those who do not truly look. After being in such a lively place as Morocco, I swear to god London seems a bit too quite.

When I first arrived, I was so excited to escape the insanity Fes and Marrakech. Speaking English again seemed like a dream come true. And yet, when I woke up the first morning I found myself startled to not hear one single prayer call. The sound of the mosques had become such a part of my routine that I felt like I was missing something.

I know it’s cliche to compare London to New York, but every time I walk down Westend I can’t help but call it Broadway. This city reminds me of home so much that I think it is making me much more homesick than any other city before. The culture is similar. We both have this sense of fake politeness and say sorry far too frequently. We avoid topics that might upset folks who think differently and we talk about people behind their backs instead of to their face. I will say however, that British humor seems to be a bit more dry.

Despite all of those less positive aspects of my trip so far, there is definitely something alluring about London. We’ve done all the main tourist sites. Visited the tower of London, Borough Market, Big Ben, Stonehenge and Buckingham Palace. Seeing the sites I had only before caught glimpses of in movies was incredibly exciting to say the least. Not to mention the fact that on my walk to school, I always pass the Charles Dickens house, and each street here has the cutest shops ranging from umbrella stores, to fancy hat shops. There’s endless things to do in this city, properly exploring it would take more than a lifetime.

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The things I do like about London are slightly cheesy but altogether still enjoyable.
1)Im obsessed with the hats
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2)They have bagels here, i haven’t had a bagel in like 7 months this is better than Christmas.
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3)International food! Since there is such a large migrant population here in the UK, London has amazing foods from all around the world.

4)Theatre shows! You can get cheap tickets the day of the show! We got to see Le Miserable for only 12 pounds.
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5)Concerts: It’s like living in LA again concerts are always happening.

6)Amazing public transport

7)The Museums are Free! You can see anything from Dali paintings to skeletons all for the reasonable price of…nothing!
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8)We took a picture at abbeyroad
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9)Free healthcare!

10)My accent is developing nicely

11)The markets are incredible!
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12)Speakers Corner in Hyde Park attracts people from all over the world as a spot where folks can talk freely about whatever unpopular view they may have. Typically people stand on boxes and yell out their opinions on anything from god to politics.

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Brasov – “aren’t you scared they are going to try to steal your organs?”

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I showed up to the cute little town of Brasov knowing that I wouldn’t have nearly enough time to see it properly. I only had a few days to explore, and I had to go see the castle of Dracula (even though I knew it wasn’t the real castle) which I knew would be an entire day trip. I think seeing it had turned more into an obsession than an actual necessity, but I was going no matter what.

Part of the joy of traveling alone is doing whatever sounds fun at the moment. If I feel lonely I can make friends, if I want solitude I can spend the day with myself. No one is there telling me what I have to do. I am responsible for only my own wants and desires. So when I made a friend for the day in Brasov, I decided to embrace the company. My new Australian companion was a strange soul to say the least. As someone who loves anything and anyone abnormal we got along just fine. It wasn’t until we started to talk about traveling alone that he actually started to annoy me.

As soon as he found out I was traveling through Eastern Europe on my own he went off on a tangent of ignorance; asking me questions which all centered around organ snatching. To him apparently, the greatest danger for traveling alone was the fear that someone would steal his organs, which in his eyes I was also especially vulnerable to considering my lack of brute strength to overpower the boogie men who steal rich tourist organs. Now, I am not going to say that this has never happened in the history of world travel, however, I will add that organ stealing is not even on my radar of possible fears. People in this trade would have to be immense idiots if they thought that a tourist organ was worth more than the ransom they could get for holding me hostage. Plus why would they steal my organs when they’re are much more vulnerable victims in this country. Homeless men, women and children here are subject to violence all the time. I am a privileged white woman, the media would be on my disappearance in a second. Mostly my main concern is harassment, which happens in every space I inhabit regardless of if I travel alone or not, and regardless of which country I’m in.

Luckily our bus arrived just in time to avoid further debates and we arrived at the fake home of Dracula. The castle dominated the landscape and underneath it there was a slew of tourist shops selling anything from sling shots to maps of Europe.

Since I had just read the book, I kept repeating the phrases “the blood is the life” and “listen to them, children of the night, what music they make” just to amuse myself. Overall it was fun and the castle was pretty but I wish I could have seen the real one. I also got to learn a lot about the actual man who Bran Stoker based the book off of. All of the information provided at the castle stated that he was a violent medieval ruler, but no more violent than any other rulers of his time and he certainly was not a bloodsucker (just to clear up his name).

Since it was raining we couldn’t stay too long to explore so we headed back to Brasov. The bus did not take too long and we were able to eat a nice Romanian meal of Sarmale which is a type of meat wrapped in cabbage along with a fantastic local beer.

The city of Brasov was so cute! It had Austro-Hungarian type architecture and each building was a different bright color. The main downtown walkway had loads of people who were selling a variety of different crafts and there was many shopping places and restaurants. Brasov and Timisoara were much nicer than the capital, and Brasov had the added benefit of being surrounded by beautiful mountains.

Bucharest- A Brief Meeting with the Prime Minister

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Bucharest
I took off from Timisoara at about 5 in the morning to catch the early morning train to Bucharest. Apparently Bucharest and Budapest are two of the most commonly confused city names, so to clarify I am currently in the capital of Romania.

I got to the hostel about eleven hours later and went to grab a quick bite to eat right around the corner. The food here is so hearty and cheap. Any and all passionate meat eaters need to take a trip to the Balkans because it is probably one of the only places where you can find meat stuffed with more meat! Being a vegetarian here would be a waste of an amazing meat culture. Also, the beer is fantastic. Germany seems a bit overrated from these part of the world. All the graffiti, food, and drinks are just as good if not better here (less touristy).

Because I was quite exhausted from the train, I called it a night and decided to explore the next day.

Bucharest is not my favorite city, but it is interesting none-the-less. Each building was drastically different from another. The architecture schizophrenically changed shape with every passing block. From communist, to Romanian, to French, to Roman all the buildings constantly changed design.

I find the communist architecture interesting but not very aesthetically pleasing. One building specifically was unbelievably large and hilariously oxymoronic. The Parliament building/palace which was built during the communist era is astoundingly not socialistic as it cost nearly 4 billion euros to construct (money that could have been used on the people), is one of the largest buildings in the world, and it mostly unused. The only plus side to visiting was that we actually got to see the Prime Minister while we were there because the wealth required to construct such a building could have been spent on so many more useful ways.

A girl I met from Australia was telling me that there is an entire community of folks here in Bucharest who live in the sewers. Because they have no way of making money, many children and adults climb beneath the city to stay warm in the cold winter nights. It seems like such a waste to have spent so much money on a almost entirely unused/useless building when so many of the Romanian people need more resources.

I was speaking to a new friend who is from Bucharest and he told me that most of the people here hate that building because it represents such corruption. On post cards he wants his home to be represented by the Opera house – an indicator of culture, instead of this monument of superfluous spending.

I think the reason I did not like Bucharest as much as other cities in the Balkans is because everything was interesting but not fascinating, beautiful but not gorgeous, it was nice but not fantastic. I guess I’m trying to say that nothing particularly stood out to me about this place, I think Timisoara was a better fit for me.

I will say however though that Bucharest has amazing night life. The drinks are cheap and the main city center has bar after bar after club lined up next to each other. The objectification of women was too much for me to enjoy it. The center seemed like a mix of Vegas, Amsterdam and Octoberfest to me. Anyone who wants to party would love this part of Europe. The nightlife has been pretty fantastic and I’m here during the off-season.

So now I’m off to Transylvania.

I’m Alive!

Hello readers! I’ve been a bit AWOL for about a month now, but I am happy to report that my computer is finally fixed. I was unable to post because my screen cracked in Morocco and I wasn’t able to find a replacement until I got to London! But now I’m back! More updates to come.

Timisoara, Romania

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There are no direct trains from Belgrade to Bucharest, so I stopped in Timisoara Romania for a brief layover in between cities. My plan was take off virtually as soon as I got there, but plans change. I’ve learned to travel with more of a backup itinerary than with any sort of concrete timetable. I have found that it is so much more rewarding to just follow the moment.

When I got to Timisoara I immediately went to explore the city. I used the map for reference but mostly just wandered. The first thing I noticed was that it was insanely warm. The next thing that I noticed was how insane I must have gotten because I genuinely thought that 46 degrees was warm.

The buildings reminded me of the Austro-Hungarian style that I had seen in a few cities before. They were also distinctly different in a Victorian-like way. The bricks on a lot of the buildings formed intricate designs and the churches were architecturally unique. They mostly had one central large dome and then four towers protruding from the corners.The city center also had this gorgeous castle with green and brown paint, and disneyland esk pointed towers.
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The river that runs through the town was a popular spot for graffiti. I saw some extremely well done pieces in the park by the castle. There were a bunch of old folks playing chess surrounded by abandoned buildings covered in art. I like Timisoara because it is interesting, lived in, and beautiful.
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My plan was still to leave the next morning so I went back to the hostel to figure out my next destination and how to get there. But when I got back I realized that I had apparently picked the right hostel in Timisoara because I met so many interesting travelers from all over the world. From Romania to Canada to Italy; it was an international atmosphere. It was funny because I actually ended up meeting a woman from Belgrade, the city I had just visited the day before. Her name is Gorana, she’s 18 and speaks five languages. In fact everyone there spoke at least two languages (expect me). It is honestly a disgrace how awful our education system is compared to these other places. The fellow students from Germany, France, Serbia, and Italy all said that their university is about 200 Euros a year, and the most expensive school was 200 Euros a semester. I do not understand why the US is so glorified at times, we are so behind in so many ways.
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When I met a man from Bucharest he asked me if I had heard of Rosia Mountain. I had not. Apparently a US company had tried to set up a gold mining industry on that mountain. It would entail cutting into the mountain and exposing the land to toxic waste and a large amount of pollution. All of his friends, and a large amount of young people protested against the company and it worked. The mountain still exists and the pollution does not. There is so much injustice in the world that I really have no idea about, injustice that my country is largely responsible for. I’m so glad that a group of dedicated young people were able to protect their land. I hope that they won’t have to fight for their right to clean air and waters again.

It still amazes me how well I have been treated in the Balkans. My country has directly contributed to oppression here and yet everyone is so welcoming, kind, and helpful. I have never experienced this kind of hospitality. I’ve met more people in this month backpacking than I did my entire time living in Italy. These are the kind of places where the bus drops you off directly at your home, where you ask someone for directions and instead of pointing they walk you there, where the hostel provides free shots and the staff take you out to their favorite bars.

I decided to stay one more day in Timisoara.

The man visiting from France had a car and he volunteered to take a few of us to Corvin castle in the mountains in Hunedoara. It was an international road trip without crossing borders. In a mini cooper we saw Romania but traveled to Serbia, France, Sicily, and California. Mostly we bonded over food and music and places we had traveled to or wanted to visit. Before we had even gotten to the castle I was already so glad just for the journey.

The castle itself was an interesting place. They had empty beast pits where the rulers would toss prisoners to their death. It felt like a movie set, the design seemed like it could have been plucked from any of the classic vampire folklore. It is interesting how the castles in Romania seem to be associated with monsters while the ones in Germany had princesses.

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When I was talking to the man from Romania about it he told me that Dracula was actually a real man; a vigilante of sorts who murdered in pursuit of justice. He did not understand how the story morphed into the most popular vampire tale.

After reading the story (written by Irish writer Bran Stoker), I think it has much more to do with fear of the “barbarians” in the east than a simple miss-telling of history. There is no debating that the novel is a great work of fiction, however, it is also a biased story which plays off of the idea that there are monsters in the East whose goal is to infect the West.

Anyways, the castle reminded me of vampires because of the pointed large towers and perhaps because I had just finished the book a day before.

On the way back into Timisoara we actually found another castle and took an elevator/train/lift up the mountain to its ruins. Below we could see the entire town of Deva.
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Overall, I’m glad I stayed the extra day and I will update about the Belgrade trip soon.