I am constantly amazed at how much I fall in love with places I didn't expect to. It's beginning to feel like I say the same sentence all the time. I wrote a few weeks ago about leaving Croatia in search of a more fulfilling journey - more authentic experiences, more personal challenges, more opportunities for growth. I was able to find all three. Though Romania had definitely been a place of interest to visit someday, the honest reason we headed there was to partake in the Couchsurfing Travelers' Christmas, and all the other pleasantries just slipped into place.
As our train pulled across the border into Bulgaria yesterday, I felt a pang of sadness to leave behind such a complex, sometimes confusing but always entertaining culture. My deepest memories of our travels thus far took place almost entirely in the few weeks we were in Romania. I knew it was time to go; we had a wonderful host waiting for us in Bulgaria. I just didn't expect to feel so attached after a short few weeks. It felt like saying goodbye to a close friend.
Sometimes travel experiences happen out of sheer luck or coincidence, and other times you invest in them to make them more beautiful. I felt a pleasant mixture of the two.
We found hosts absolutely everywhere, and were invited into more homes than all other countries we have visited combined. Our friend Levi's grandmother spoke not one word of English, but busied herself making us comfortable and giving us traditional food to try. A local and her mother in Târgu Mures had us over on Christmas Day for Romanian carols, traditional spiced wine, a gigantic table full of food, and company that was wonderful no matter what language was being spoken.
We spent a day volunteering at a village orphanage, playing games and giggling and taking photographs. I have never felt so loved so quickly. We were taken to explore the home of Count Kalnoky, whose family is one of the most ancient in all of Hungary's history. I held the keys in my hand to Viscri's Fortified church, a UNESCO site, and climbed the rickety tower to look out over the villages of Transylvania. I tried more homemade palinka and tuica than I thought humanly possible, but who was I to argue with tradition and turn it down?
We stayed in Braşov with our host Loredana and rang in 2012 with fifteen new friends from around the globe; we sipped spiced wine under the enormous tree in the city square and laughed til it hurt. At a hostel the next day, a group from Bucharest invited us in to help them finish off their cakes and later a dozen Serbians joined in with their rakija and funny stories. We played music, we shared ideas, we talked about how silly borders can be when we have so much that matters in common. In Bucharest we stayed with Mihai, who opened his doors and shared with us his home and his travel stories, and later we finally got to meet Wandering Earl and talked for hours. We left the city on a sunny winter's day, and on the walk to the Metro we were chased by feral dogs.
There is so much to be said, and I could never say enough. Romania, multumesc for the memories. I can't wait to see you again.