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#tbt Romania

After months of solo roaming, I’m chilling in Romania when I get a message from a school friend living in London.

“How much longer till you fly back to New Zealand? I might join ya.”

A few days later Michaela and I are wining and dining in Cluj-Napoca the infamous Romanian hub of the young and reckless.

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We start the night in true Balkan style, with shots of Rakija the local Brandy. From there everything is a blur of colour; from a surreal Bogan heavy metal underground club (the wrong sort of ponytails) to salsa dancing with a swoon-worthy Dutch man (good pony)

Fast forward a few nights and we’re trekking through Hoia Baciu deemed the world’s most haunted forest. Known as the Bermuda Triangle of Transylvania because of the harrowing tales of UFO sightings, disappearances, unexplained burns and feelings of nausea.

At midnight our group abandones us. Not because of eery happenings but as Google maps seemed set on us circumnavigating the forest only. Very suspicious.

Michaela, Dutchie, a Kiwi fella and I venture on, determined to find something remotely terrifying but after a few hours of lack lustre adventures we too make the long walk home.

Next day Michaela and I decide to Hitchhike east to Timișoara. I spend all morning crafting the perfect sign in my Rakija induced state. A Bla Bla car happens to be going our way, so we catch a ride with a few locals instead.

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Michaela is a sales woman by trade – all smiles, laughs and charm. From the back seat I can see a situation developing. Our Driver keeps bestowing us with gifts of home grown fruit. He starts casually touching her arm as he offers the fruit. And the offerings keep coming. Her laughs become feigned. Next thing he’s trying to book into our Hostel.

I’m no Sales Women, but I’ve mastered the art of elusive behaviour. When we stop to drop another passenger off in town we jump out graciously, bid our farewells and head on our merry way with fruit for days.

R o m a n i a. I went there in search of Dracula, haunted castles and Gypsies. Yet Dracula and Vlad the Impaler were long gone. And Gypsies was apparently a politically incorrect term. Sigh.

Instead I stumbled upon a colourful place enchanting in its own right. Mystical mountain towns. A lot of city slicking. One too many sleepless nights. A slice of old school Europe pastures. Copious amounts of coffee’n in hipster cafes. A chance encounter with a dodgy puppy dealer. And most importantly an accomplice.

 

Why travel (on reflection)

I draw inspiration from some great muses, as I nostalgically reflect on adventures been and journeys to come.

“We need sometimes to escape into open solitudes, into aimlessness, into the moral holiday of running some pure hazard, in order to sharpen the edge of life” George Santayana

Need is a strong word. And yet Santayana continues:

“There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar; it keeps the mind nimble; it kills prejudice, and it fosters humour.”

I’m all for a nimble mind, and a good sense of humour.

“Abroad is the place where we stay up late, follow impulse and find ourselves as wide open as when we are in love” Pico Iyer

I stay up late at home, but generally disappoint myself with the sensibilities of life.

“We live without a past or future, for a moment at least, and are ourselves up for grabs and open to interpretation…” ]

You could be anyone. I inevitably always am myself. I think this is a good thing.

“There are, of course, great dangers to this, as to every kind of freedom, but the great promise of it is that, traveling, we are born again, and able to return at moments to a younger and a more open kind of self”

It’s not being young per se that attracts me, but the sense of freedom and ability to frolic frivolusly.

“Traveling is a way to reverse time, to a small extent, and make a day last a year”

It is true. One the road days last forever. The stresses of life wither away. I laugh constantly.

Friendships created in days, felt like friends of old. I felt at home. Broad smiles, sun kissed tans and friendships built on beer pyramids. Many are transient, short and sweet. Yet a collection of people I’ve meet over the years stay with me, there faces etched in my memory.

“All good trips are, like love, about being carried out of yourself and deposited in the midst of terror and wonder….And that is why many of us travel not in search of answers, but of better questions”

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Bear necessities

If you’re hiking in the Romanian woods and run into a bear, apparently you should play dead.

I’m not sure I’d trust my acting skills in such a dire situation. Then again, lying in foetal position in a frozen state of panic probably wouldn’t involve that much acting.

If the bear proceeds to try and eat you, apparently it’s then time to talk in a firm voice. I can’t help but wonder if he’d understand the Kiwi accent?

Bear etiquette 101. This was quickly googled after many a traveller returned from Transylvanian hikes proclaiming they’d smelt bears.

Yes, no joke. Apparently you can litterally smell them.

“What sort of smell is it?” I enquired, ever so casually.

“You just know. Go the other way if you smell them.”

Great. Very reassuring. Honey face masks probably not be happening this week.

But bears are not all grrrrrrrr. Sometimes they get depressed. I learnt all about it at the Libearty Bear Sanctuary in Brasov, Romania.

A lot of bears became depressed at the hands of cruel owners who used them to attract tourists. The bears would refuse to eat, or worse, self mutiliate – eating their own paws.

There were many other horrific stories as well. Bears with arthritis from being made to sit still for too long. Bears who had never been to the forest. Bears scared of other bears. Bears blinded from the flashes of tourist’s cameras.

When you see these fellas with their soulful eyes, playful paws and feigned cuddly ways you can’t help but feel incredibly sorry for them. But surely modern day tourists wouldn’t be so stupid.

At the sanctuary there were many huge signs, warning of the electric fences around the enclosures. Our guide kept reiterating not to get more than 1m close.

Next thing there’s a gasp, and everyone had gathered. As I got closer I realise someone had dropped their iPhone 6 in the enclosure.

“Who would be stupid enough to do that?” I muttered to myself.

“We did!” A couple next to me admitted sheepishly.

Opps. I feigned sympathy as they retold how he’d leaned too close with his phone, got electrocuted and phone went flying in.

Well at least now maybe the bear could take selfies? That seemed to help depressed people get a self-esteem boost.

I wonder what you should do if you come across a depressed bear in the wild? Give him a hug?

I’d like to hope they wouldn’t be depressed in nature. And luckily I follow the advice of google, not my desire to get the ultimate bear hug.

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Midnight in Shanghai

It’s midnight in Shanghai. My early night has failed miserably. The novelty of my own room has gone to my head as I luxuriate in a starfish across the bed.

And what’s this feeling – hunger? But I already ate. Jetlag. Time zones. Of course, right about now I’d be gluttening on dinner and half a litre of wine in Europe.

I set out from the hostel in search of a midnight feast. The first thing I pass is a man peeing in the alley. How delightful. But China has a safe feel, so I keep strolling.

The neighbourhood is very local and suprisingly quiet at this time. There’s only a few dubious food options still available. Everyone stares as I go past, the only Westerner and women roaming here at this hour.

I almost talk myself out of eating but I’m determined to finally get a good nights sleep. I order a noodle and vegetable soup. It comes with a free green tea in a plastic cup. Things are really looking up.

I sip my tea slowly enjoying the ambience of the concurrent coughing and soup slurping.

Tomorrow has great prospects – roaming the Bund, Nanjing Road and the French Concession but for now I’m happy in the backstreets of Shanghai.

My soup arrives. Compared to the rest of the food I’ve had it’s not the tastiest, but I feel quite chuffed with my late night solo venturing in a new country. There’s not many places in the world that’d be safe.

I head home stoked not to be in a dorm room for once. I settle in for a blissful undisturbed slumber.

The last thing I remembered is the feeling of my burnt tongue.