Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sinaia și Brașov

It is the eve of the first day of school. I got my supplies tucked in my bag, my new impossibly white tennies poised by the door and my first-day outfit laid out. It's go time.

Actually, I don't have any of that anymore. Perhaps it's because only teachers report tomorrow, and I've been told the day's events include a meeting squeezed in between a late arrival and rounds of "Ce ai făcut vară astă?" Or, perhaps it's because I haven't bought new tennies for school since Clinton became president and put out "Sample Some of Disc-Sample Some of D.A.T." in the same year.

Either way, I'm not nervous. I only say that because I thought I would be. I guess it's because everyone's been pretty nice so far. I guess it's because I'm a bit more confident in expressing myself in Romanian. I guess it might just be because I'm foolhardy.

Maybe it's just because the nervousness has been ousted by excitement: to start, to meet my kids, to finally do what I've been assigned to do.

Whatever it is, it starts tomorrow. Tonight, I'm posting because of the last two weeks. We had an all-TEFL conference in Sinaia, then a group of us took a short sojourn to Sinaia's bigger neighbor to the north, Brașov.

The conference was a conference. We were quarantined in conference rooms, feigning interest while postcard days passed us by. (Actually, glumesc. This one had some really great, practical sessions that were well worth the time, and we got to meet all of Group 27, the ones who immediately preceded us here.)

Sinaia, named that by nobleman Mihai Cantacuzino when he returned from a pilgrimage to Mt. Sinai, is a beautiful mountain resort town. Most of my pictures are from a visit to the monastery he built in 1695, since our time was limited. However, we go back in December. I'll bring my camera.

In Brașov, we only had about 36 hours, but we made use of them. We took the telecabina to the top of a mountain to look over the city from the Hollywood-esque Brașov sign, saw the Biserica Neagră and were fortunate enough to hear a live concert from the 4,000-pipe organ inside. (They only play it two months out of the year, three days a week, once per day. All those lined up during our 36 hours there.) We weren't allowed to snap pictures, but I took some audio.

We also stayed at a great hostel right off Piața Sfatului, the historical center of the town where they used to burn witches and torture prisoners. Now it's a bit more genteel. In fact, it's everything you'd imagine a European piazza to be: bars, restaurants, an outdoor market, picturesque fountain, crafty pigeons, etc.

Anyway, as usual, it's all found in the picture album. Enjoy!

Until next time, something clever.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Last week, some friends and I hiked to the top of Ceahlău Mountain -- Toaca Peak to be exact -- which reaches 1,907 meters (6,257 feet). Ceahlău is steeped in legendry -- one historian said, "had the antique historians known of the legends of Ceahlău, it would have been more famous than the Olympus." However, to me, it's simply that intimidating peak that forms the Eastern horizon. (If you want to read more about the legendry, go here. Because there's some cool info, forgive it the fact that reads like a third grader's social studies project.)

Anyway, we met Thursday morning in the town center and took a "cab" the 40 minutes to Durău. The use of quotes there is because we simply paid a guy to drive us there. This guy was a gem. From his yellow welder "sunglasses" to his insistence that drinking only strawberry juice will help him live until 120 to his rusty Dacia that he claimed ran on kerosene, he serenaded us with crazy the whole way there.

Once we mercifully disembarked from the Super Dacia, Shades went back to pick up the other group as we anxiously awaited the looks on their faces when they got there. They didn't disappoint.

The climb took about seven hours, including some off-road exploration and multiple breaks to rest, eat and simply breathe it all in. We summited the first day, then hiked to a cabin at the top for the night, heading back down the next morning. Words like "unbelievable," "mesmerizing," "amazing" are a start, but I'd prefer to let the pictures tell the story. I also edited together a few panoramic video shots from the top. (I suggest you watch it in HD and full screen.) They're an inadequate substitute for the real thing, but it's the best I can do.

Next week, I'm off to an all-TEFL conference in Sinaia, home of the Peleș Castle and some stunning cliffs, where I'll get to see everyone from my group and meet everyone from the group that's been here a year. It'll be a full day of workshops and... Actually, I'm going to stop there. You all know what happens at a conference. A bunch of us are heading in a day early to see the sights in Sinaia, then staying a bit late to check out its bigger neighbor, Brașov. Check back for photos, etc. Romaniamania, activate.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Szekély Land and Siggy Ville

I think it's been a couple weeks since my last update. I could very easily check that right now, but I'm not going to, so let's go with "a couple of weeks."

I'm currently sitting on my front steps on the beautiful final evening of Zile Tulgheșului (Tulgheș Days, some photos starting here). A storm passed through a bit earlier, leaving behind a wicked rainbow (single) and clearing the skies for the fireworks set to start in about 50 minutes (went forward in time and already got pictures before it happened). I was one of three judges this morning at the cook-off, which was ironic because one of the categories was "traditional food." I've been here four months; clearly I'm qualified to judge this. 

I spent the last two weeks in Odorheiu Secuiesc at a couple English camps. The first had a young group of kids -- aged about 6-8 -- and an older group -- maybe 10-14. The second week was all little ones: 21 4- to 8-year-olds.

Each age has its challenges. With the younger ones, it's really easy to make them love you; you just bring enthusiasm and a bunch of games. But it's also much more exhausting because their attention spans are shorter and energy is higher, so you need more activities to keep them engaged, and more energy to keep them excited (and to keep up).

What made it even more difficult is the language barrier. Odorheiu Secuiesc is the Romanian name of the town we were in. Udvarhely is the Hungarian name, which is what we'll use moving forward because it's 96-percent Hungarian, and if you don't speak Hungarian -- and I don't -- you're actually better off with English rather than Romanian. This fact made classroom management a bit dicey when we couldn't communicate above some very simple vocab and superficial exchanges.

A quick history lesson: I live in the Szekély region of Romania. It's largely ethnic Hungarian because this used to be the eastern border of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and the ancestors of the Hungarian families here were charged with protecting the borders from the Ottomans and all their furniture.

OK, we're back. Anyway, the students were sweet and adorable. I had my favorites, and my "less favorites," but overall, it was a great experience. Not only did I enjoy meeting the kids, it's nice to get some camps under my belt with this age. Oh, and I now know the Banana and Moose songs by heart. And "by heart," I mean I fall asleep and wake up with them frolicking around my brain. (If you're not familiar, just youtube it. There will be about a million videos. Warning: Do it at your own peril.)

In between the camps, Meg and I took a trip to Sighișoara. It's this really cool medieval citadel town about 50 km from Udvarhely. The highlights are the great hilltop Clock Tower, Church on the Hill, the old German cemetery, and a bunch of other cool buildings dating back over 600 years. (Check out the photo album for more info, and I put up a few videos of some live music we stumbled upon. Also, here's more historical info. Big ups, Wikipedia!)

Oh, and it's also where Vlad Tepeș was born, which not only adds to its history but also provides for a buttload of kitschy Dracula stuff to be sold. I do not encourage this, which is precisely why I bought an awesome Dracula bottle opener. Wait, what? Actually, it is indeed super corny, but it's also endlessly amusing, so I approve.

And now I'm back in Tulgheș for a week before a weeklong Peace Corps conference in Sinaia, a few hours south. After that, school's in! I'm excited to get started. This time of adjustment has been nice, but I want to get going, get teaching and really start figuring out what kind of projects I and -- more importantly -- my community want to pursue.

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.