Author: Brandon  |  Category: Trips

Travel Log Romania Part 10

Day 9 and 10 – June 5th and 6th 2009 – Travel to Chisinau

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I have always been a little leery for traveling to Chisinau. It was part of the old Soviet Union and people think a little differently there. In fact, as a missionary I spent a little time in jail. Communism played a very significant role in the way these people think and act. It is going to be very hard for them to open their minds to western thinking.

The train-ride is very unique. They come into your cabin about 15 to twenty times throughout the 13 hour ride to Moldova. Checking your passports, asking what you are doing, asking how much money you have, or asking if they can have your money. It never ends, so sleeping is a little difficult. Immediately after getting on the train, our cabin supervisor came in saying I had to pay for the bags. She went off on how much it would cost. Then she stepped inside our cabin and said, “We might be able to work something out though.” For the steep bribe of 2 dollars and 60 cents our bags were now safe.

The best part of the ride is at the Moldova/Romania border. At some point the Moldovans decided they didn’t want any unwanted visitors in their country. It an incredibly bright effort to accomplish this goal, they changed the width of their train tracks in the entire country. All of their tracks are a few inches shorter than bordering countries. With this being the case, the train is lifted up in the air for about 3 to 4 hours at the border town of Ungheni while they go through the deliberately slow process of changing the wheels. I say slow, because I watch them take about 42 smoke breaks and even one lunch break in-between. I think they just leave us hanging up there for an hour just to stare at us. It is an interesting process to say the least.

The mission president always used to hate going across the border. We would sit in our car for hours while they searched it, then go outside while they searched us. I assume a lot of trafficking goes on in 3rd world countries. One time a loving mother of a missionary had sent a white cake mix to her little boy in Moldova. President would have us take all the packages across the border to the missionaries at Christmas time. We never opened the packages, but the guards at the border sure did. With the little knowledge we had of the contents that lied with in, I was rather shocked to be hustled into the border station by 4 guards. The package was sitting on a table inside the station with the contents lying beside it. In order to save space the mother decided to pack the cake mix without the cake box. The bag of the white looking substance was in the hands of one of the guards. It took a couple hours of convincing, but I was finally able to explain that it wasn’t drugs. It was an experience I won’t forget. LABEL your packages when sending them to foreign countries, and if possible provide tastes samples!

Author: Brandon  |  Category: Trips

Travel Log Romania Part 9

Day 8 – June 4th 2009 – Bran, Pitesti, Bucuresti

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Our plan today was to travel back to Buc to hop on the train to Chisinau. On the way there we stopped by Bran to see Dracula’s Castle. It was a nice castle, but definitely not as pretty as Pelesi. The castle sits up on some cliffs on one side and overlooks the valley on the other. The Valley below has a river running through it and is lined with little cottage looking houses.

The ride back gave us the opportunity to go right over the top of some of the steepest mountains I have ever traversed in my life. The curious thing about the mountains was the locations of all the local homes on the mountain tops and even down in the valleys. (look at the pictures on my last post) I don’t know how people even got to and from their houses (well they walked) because there wasn’t a single road to any of them. It was sure interesting to see how far from civilization people could actually live. I don’t know if I could make it one day without the internet or a computer, but I am sure most of these people haven’t even seen a computer.

Hailey started getting sick on the ride back. Luckily we made it to Pitesti so she could get some fresh air. It wasn’t any accident either that Pitesti is home to the most fabulous ice cream in all the world. Words can’t describe the flavors that lie within the succulent scoops of ice cream located in the center of Pitesti. Each bite gets better and better, and almost takes me to post-mortal times (if that is even possible) when food tastes like heaven. I am not one to lick a plate after a meal, or desert, but on this occasion only, the desire was there.

The road from Pitesti to Buc is almost normal. It even has 4 lanes. Unfortunately by this point Hailey wasn’t feeling so well. The train ride was looking less and less appealing. As it turned out when we got to the train station, the train only runs to Chisinau on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The hotel we stayed at last time in Buc, also was very congenial and changed our reservation from next week to tonight with out any extra charge. Everything worked out for Hailey to have a comfortable room to sleep and throw up in all night. I strongly believe we were being watched over, and had we gone on the train with her as sick as she was, I wouldn’t have made it back home to tell the tale.

Author: Brandon  |  Category: Trips

Travel Log Romania Part 8

Day 7 – June 3rd 2009 – Sighişoara

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Sighişoara is considered to be the most beautiful and well preserved inhabited citadel in Europe. The town is full of beautiful buildings and streets that surround the clock tower located on the hill at the edge of the city. The city is known for being the birth place of Vlad Tepes, Dracula.

The streets are paved with cobblestones and the buildings and stairways leading up to the main attractions are preserved extremely well from the 12th century. There are also various tunnels and small passage ways you can go through until you reach the crest of the hill where Dracula was born. Just on the other side of the hill we had the opportunity to walk through a cemetery covered in vines and greenery that overlooked the valley below.

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Traveling back to Brasov, from Sighişoara is an extremely beautiful and green drive. There are hundreds of little houses scattered throughout the valleys that constantly remind you of how old the country is. We passed grape vineyards that stretched for miles, and about 15 little cities that all seemed so ancient, but perfectly in place with the surrounding scenery.

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Romania’s country side is extraordinary. The humidity provides for a luscious green season that brightens up the hills every spring. The trees and landscape dotted with villages and old beauty only add to the splendor. Every few miles while driving along the highway we had to slow down to pass a horse and carriage used for hauling lumber, wheat, or rocks. The drive was so peaceful and the setting was reminiscent of actually living back in the 12th century. It was as though time had stopped for a few hours just to let us through and enjoy the beauty.

Author: Brandon  |  Category: Trips

Travel Log Romania Part 7

Day 6 – June 2nd 2009 – Continued

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Targoviste was kind of bummer, but as we were pulling up to Sinaia I knew Hailey would be much more thrilled about the caliber of castles they have here. The entire drive was rainy and extremely dark as we were going over the mountain passes, but right as we showed up the rain stopped and it even lightened up a little bit for pictures.

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The pathway to the castle was gorgeous. With cobblestone roads, and an old city wall covered with moss, it created quite an ambience. As we could just make out the castle through the trees we had  to cross an old bridge with the most wonderful river bed flowing underneath it. There was a waterfall about 25 yards above us, which fell just below the winding road we had to keep climbing to the get to the castle. The Castle Pilesi is located right in the heart of the Carpathian mountains, nestled against a hill filled with thousands of trees. It is a large castle, but you wouldn’t see it from the valley below because of all the greenery surrounding it.

Approaching the castle looks somewhat the castle from Beauty and The Beast. It is surrounded by old statues everywhere, and the courtyards are filled with fountains and flowers. The colors of the castle are very vivid and don’t really match the rest of the buildings found in Romania.

We had arrived just after 5:00 and the castle was closed. Just our luck, but thanks to the greedy hands of the Romanian people, we were able to bribe one of the guards to let us go around and take some pictures of the exterior and courtyard.

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As soon as we left the castle it started raining as hard as I could ever remember. It was a good thing we only had a few more minutes to Brasov. The streets of Brasov seemed unfamiliar with the downpour around us, but we were able to navigate our way to the center and eventually to the best restaurant in Brasov, Bella-Muzica. Inside looks like the interior of an old dungeon, but the Mexican food there is absolutely mouthwatering. Hailey was very grateful to have some food that she could actually enjoy. It was a perfect finish to a wonderful day in the Mountains.

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Author: Brandon  |  Category: Trips

Travel Log Romania Part 6

Day 6 – June 2nd 2009 – Targoviste, Sinaia, Brasov

We finally got our car. Fitting in with the local drivers only took a few minutes and a lot more weight on the gas pedal. Finding our way out of town was fairly simple, then we were on our way to Targoviste. We had heard the castle was fantastic there.

Along the way we saw a lot of little villages. Each one was unique in its own way, with people and a orthodox church now and again. As we would pass people would be sitting on their little benches outside watching us go by. The further away we got from the city, the more I began to wonder if the people we were passing on in these little cities had ever seen the internet, or had a chance to talk on a cell phone. The villages were pretty remote, and you could tell they didn’t really have much way of transportation to and from the bigger cities.

Targoviste was not all it was cracked up to be. The placed we had gone to visit was being renovated. With this being the case, they still had the audacity to charge us full price. They have wised up a little to capitalism since I had been there though. They charged for entry and to be able to take pictures. One guy stopped me and asked if I had purchased the ticket for taken pictures. I showed him my ticket and he seemed satisfied. I then asked him where half of my money was since the place was only half open. He laughed and walked off. Obviously he was happy I had paid full price for half the show. I was later assured they were going to double the price when the remodeling was complete. This made me feel better…

Author: Brandon  |  Category: Trips

Travel Log Romania Part 5

Day 5 – June 1st 2009 – Bucuresti

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The train ride from Constanta to Bucuresti was absolutely brutal. Five hours of hot Romanian train weather. By ‘Romanian train’ weather I mean the pleasant smells and blistering heat within the boxcars of course. Luckily our Hotel was a sigh of relief. The bed was ok, and the shower actually had body sprays inside it. Hailey was not extremely stoked about that fact that there wasn’t a tub to relax in. The shower did prove to be somewhat of a challenge for me though. The exit from the shower was about a foot down, and who knew tile floors were that slick when wet. I was on the floor in about 2 seconds after trying to get out, but not before my head made acquaintance with the glass sink countertop, and my elbow with the granite walls. To say the least, it hurt. Hailey rather enjoyed the commotion though, so at least somebody enjoyed it.

Bucuresti is the Capital city. With over two million people we had no shortage of social interaction with the locals. Gogosi (Romanian Donuts) and Suc (Romanian Juice that is so Divine) was on the menu for breakfast. The morning after picking up new missionaries from the airport we would bring them to President Hanson’s house for these two specialties. We would let them eat until completely satisfied, then give them a short orientation on the next 2 years of their lives. It was tradition to have them when in Bucuresti.

The first place we visited was none other than the House of the People (Casa Poporului). The Locals Claim it is the second largest building the world, just behind the pentagon, and when you are standing in front of it you are not disappointed. It is HUGE!!! Nicolae Ceauşescu had it built for himself, and as symbol to the country that they had power. It was always fun to watch the new missionaries eyes (myself not excluded) the first time they see the enormity and architecture of the building.

Cis Migiu, the most beautiful park in all of Romania, was our next stop. The park is very sacred place to me and others who have served here. On February 9, 1990, Elder Russel M. Nelson of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles Dedicated the Country of Romania for missionary work in this park. There is a small hill located in the Center of the park where the dedication to place. He blessed the country with the ability to accept the gospel, stand as a light for the surrounding countries, and maintain the political strength to receive the gospel as well. Since that time Romanian has evolved tremendously by entering the European Union, and changing the way the Government is ran. Missionary work has improved every year, and many members are attending the temple in Germany to have work done for their families. Nineteen year ago there was no church existence at all. Now Romania has 3 church house’s, over 20 different branches, and over 2,000 members. It may not seem like a lot compared to our local populations, but the members are strong. They are an example to me every time I see them, and whenever I hear of the trials they endure to be a ‘Mormon’ in their country.

It is located in the dead center of Bucuresti, amongst the noisy traffic and rustle of the city. Once you enter the walls of the park you forget where you are, and it almost seems as if you have entered a different world of green trees, plants, and waterfalls. The park is a place of refuge for those who want to relax, and for people who need to get away from the work. Every where you look, people are there to escape the busy life of the city only seconds away. For the locals it is a park, but for me, it is where the gospel was brought to the people of Romania.

Author: Brandon  |  Category: Trips

Travel Log Romania Part 3

Day 3 – May 30th 2009 – Constanța

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Arriving in Constanta was a wonderful relief. We were staying in the wonderful Hotel Balada Nej, right next to the apartment where I lived as a missionary. After simply explaining to the taxi driver that we didn’t want to spend $100 to drive a half a mile we were on our way to a much needed nights sleep.

The interior of the Hotel was fabulous, decorated with medieval statues and lined with brick and rock every where. It gave a castle type feel to the accommodation.

Apparently after raining all week the weather was absolutely exquisite just for our arrival. It was around 80 degrees at the hottest time in the day and cooled down to what felt like 65 at night. It was wonderful walking weather. As soon as we woke up, which happened to be around 1 in the after noon, we headed out to lunch. It had been a while since I had enjoyed a saucy kebab, and that’s just where we went. It wasn’t quite what I remembered, (a recurring feeling) but did give us the energy to go walk around the Black Sea.

Serving my mission along the black sea was a great opportunity. There are always birds flying around and the air always smells like the sea. The Black sea wraps all the way around 2 sides of the city. There is a port which docks on the east most side, and beaches extend along the north east side all the way up to a resort town called Mamaia. The buildings that run down to the coast are very old in architecture but seem to be fit into the landscape.

It was good to be by the sea again and weird to have the option to actually swim in it. The water was extremely dirty and one of the boys who ran into it in front of us came right back out. He had obviously stepped on something because he was hobbling over to where his towel was in the sand. Looking into the water you could see bottles, old pieces of fabric, sea shells, and shards of glass now and again. Unfortunately the government just doesn’t have the funding to keep things up as well so there is a lot of garbage around the country.

We walked a lot, and were able to see quite a bit of the city. We went to the casino on the beach, the muslim tower in the middle of the old city, and buy all those weird concrete things that make up the fingers that extend into the sea. I never understood how they were able to manufacture so many of those things with what looks to be concrete and drop them all into the sea. There is a picture of them above  that shows a little bit what they look like. They remind me of large versions of jacks: the children’s game you play.

The cherry to my day was being able to eat at pizza hut again. We spent a lot of days at pizza hut watching Elder Edgel drink the grease off of the pepperoni pizza. Seriously, he would pick up the pizza and let the grease drop into his mouth. No wonder he started getting serious health issues a few weeks later. Each memory of as a missionary only made this city that much more enjoyable to see again and I was exited to go to church tomorrow to see how much it had grown.

Author: Brandon  |  Category: Trips

Travel Log Romania Part 2

Day 2 – Continued

After finally getting to Romania we went to the train station. That in itself was quite a task. I had forgotten the extreme danger taxi drivers in Bucuresti love to put us in. It has always made me wonder how quickly help would come when we wreck going 80 miles an hour, in and out of cars, in bumper to bumper traffic. There was actually a point when we were dodging pedestrians because we were driving on the sidewalk. Got to love em; always in a hurry, but not much to do.

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The train to Constanta didn’t leave for another 4 hours. The next little tidbit of our vacation would be spent touring the lovely sights, sounds, and aromas, of the Northern Train station of Bucuresti Romania. After only 20 minutes Hailey needed some fresh air. We found a little spot to rest on the steps just outside. It was unfortunate that we had our bags with us because every 2 minutes a new tax driver would ask us where we needed to go and if he could rip us off by getting us there. It is outrageous what those guys at the train station try getting you in a taxi for. Some where 10 times the cost of a normal taxi, “Oh my meter…it doesn’t work, but my rate is tons better than you would get with a meter.” Right…..

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Hailey had finally had it with the smoking, taxi drivers, and wonderful Tigani who were telling us their life stories in hopes of a little money. She also had drank a lot and it was time for her to have her first experience of using the bathrooms of Romania. If only she had known how wonderful we have back home. The first place I told her to go was underneath the train station. She went down there and said there was just a bunch of people down there exchanging money. (later I went down and found that the girl at the door was just getting the toilet usage fee from people as they went in) She said it looked like they were trafficking drugs and wasn’t sure if that was her best bet. (the exaggerations of Jensen make me laugh) I figured KFC would be her next best bet. I pointed her in the right direction and off she went.

After getting to the bathroom she found an old lady at the door. Hailey couldn’t even understand hello in Romanian, let a lone the excessive rant this girl had prepared for her when she tried to get into the bathroom. She started talking in English and the old lady started taking in Romanian. I’m sure it was quite a scene, until somebody finally came to her rescue, and in broken English managed to communicate that she need to just get in there to go pee. This bathroom was no exception to the general got-to-pay-to-pee rule in Romania. Hailey just didn’t know it then, upon trying to exit the bathroom Hailey was met once again by the old lady and her insatiably long “Romanian Rants”. She held out her hand with change in and kept pointing at it. Hailey reached for her pockets, but remembered she had absolutely no money. The old lady kept pointing at the change in her hand and kept getting further and further into Hailey’s personal space until she was completely backed up against the wall in the bathroom. Finally someone else walked into the bathroom giving her a brief moment to make a break for it. She did and the next thing I see know, Hailey is running out of KFC hobbling along on her broken boot. Her Traumatic bathroom experience was a brief intimation of things to come.

The train was just as I had remembered; hot, uncomfortable, and what the heck was that smell? I loved it. It felt good to be moving again in the right direction. Constanta really was only a 2 or 3 hour drive, but because we had to stop every 13 minutes to pick up, or drop off passengers, we had a wonderful 5 hour train ride ahead of us. It was fun for me though, and Hailey slept on and off throughout the journey. A couple of people in the car with us spoke some broken English. Hailey enjoyed being able to say a few words to them. She tried to use the bathroom again and came back saying all the people at the door were telling her she couldn’t use it. I went and asked what they were saying, and they were just asking her where she was from and if she liked the country. If she was left alone for 2 days in the country I don’t think she would have made it.

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The train was bumpy, and warm and I wouldn’t recommend doing it after 24 hours of flying and sitting in airports. It was a relief to know we were actually only a few minutes away from finally seeing one of the places I served on my mission: Constanta!

Author: Brandon  |  Category: Trips

Travel Log Romania Part 1

Day 1 – Thursday May 28th 2009 – Travel

After almost not making our plane because of the construction that is continually inevitable near Salt Lake City, we finally boarded at 11:00 a.m. We had been waiting months for this trip to come and Logan helped make us that much more eager to leave. We sure love the kid, but he sure can try our patience every now and again.

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Day 2 – Friday May 29th 2009 – More Travel – Arrive in Buc

We flew to Chicago and then to Paris, France. The entire airport in France was in under construction. We had to take a bus to our terminal, then re-check our carryons. In theory it seemed like a simple task, but that could never happen. As we approached the line to recheck our bags we had approximately 30 minutes before our plane left. I couldn’t even see the baggage checkpoint from where I was standing. The best part is we were in Europe and the people helping everybody with the carry-ons and security checks acted as though nobody were even there, in spite of the extreme bottleneck that was being created. It was quintessential Europe and I loved it. We ended up getting to our terminal just in time for the plane to take off, which didn’t really matter because the plane was empty due to the building bottleneck of people we had left behind at the security checkpoint.

It was wonderful to finally hop on the final leg to Romania. As I sat in my seat it was nostalgic to hear the Romanian language spoken again by a native sitting a couple rows in front of me. It had been so long since I had actually heard native Romanian. I wasn’t even sure if I would remember how to speak. The in-flight food didn’t disappoint either, with raw fish shavings, some sort of eggs that didn’t seem to be cooked entirely, and something else I couldn’t even identify, I knew we were almost there.

The Plane ride really brought me back my first flight to Romania. My mission was the first time I had ever flown, so in order to soak up the whole experience I didn’t sleep the entire way to Bucuresti. As it turned out, it wasn’t a novel idea as I don’t think I really ever slept well for the following two years.

As we descended just under the clouds to see the beautiful countryside, I couldn’t help but feel like I was somewhat at home again. The fields and buildings were almost just as I remembered them. The ground below was broken up into thousands of squares for each family that owned them. The Romanian people live off the land, and there land is all they have. Without it they wouldn’t have food, and it was wonderful to see how green and productive the land was looking. As we approached the city, the buildings got larger and closer together. Cars dotted the roads, and people started appearing in the fields and along their homes. Run down concrete blocs (apartments) and unfinished structures started to appear out the side window as we crept closer to the runway below. We were finally here!!!

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Author: Brandon  |  Category: Trips

Trip to Romania

Wow, So we finally made it back from our Trip in Romania. It was a wonderful experience. Each day brought back so many new memories of my mission and the Romanian people. Quite a few things had changed since I had been there, some stores no longer existed, the people seemed to have a little more money, and the country in general has come a long way.

The currency has changed since I went there also. I left the country in 2004, at which time 10,000 Romanian Lei was the equivalent of about thirty three cents. After entering the European Union they knocked off 4 zeros, and we now have 1 Leu (the singular form of “Lei”) equaling thirty three cents. It made things a lot simpler. Instead of buying my groceries for a million lei, it now cost me only a hundred. One of the taxi Drivers was happy though because he said he doesn’t have to bring his whole family now to carry all the cash to the store to buy a loaf of bread. It now all fits in his wallet. I guess in 2012 they are going to get rid of the current monetary system all together and convert to the Euro. If you do go travel over there though, the old timers still talk in forms of the old monetary value, so if they say you owe them 40,000 lei for some bread, don’t get scared. My very first train ticket scared me a little when she said I owed her 900,000 lei…I was a little confused. I thought holy cow things have gotten expensive, we almost packed up and went home thinking we under budgeted for the trip.

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My wife loved the whole experience; it was absolutely wonderful for her. Her eyes were opened to new world and a new people that she didn’t even dream existed. Over the next little bit I will post pictures of each day and a little bit about the cities, sites, and people we visited. As I don’t diligently keep a journal this is going to be my sole documentation of the trip.

Trip Summary

Day 1

Thursday

5/28/2009

Travel to SLC – Plane ride to Italy

Day 2

Friday

5/29/2009

Plane ride to Italy – Train from Bucharest to Constanta

Day 3

Saturday

5/30/2009

Spend the Day in Constanta

Day 4

Sunday

5/31/2009

Church in Contanta – Train to Buc

Day 5

Monday

6/1/2009

Stay in Buc

Day 6

Tuesday

6/2/2009

Drive to Targoviste, Bran, Brasov

Day 7

Wednesday

6/3/2009

Drive to Sigisoara, Stay in Brasov

Day 8

Thursday

6/4/2009

Drive to Bran, Pitesti, Buc

Day 9

Friday

6/5/2009

Stay in Buc, Train to Chisinau

Day 10

Saturday

6/6/2009

Stay in Chisinau

Day 11

Sunday

6/7/2009

Church in Chisinau

Day 12

Monday

6/8/2009

Stay in Chisinau, Train to Buc

Day 13

Tuesday

6/9/2009

Piata Shopping, Plane Home

Day 14

Wednesday

6/10/2009

Arrive Home