Lost Girl of the Week: Olivia from Portland

Adventure Travel, Backpacking & Trekking, City Travel, Dispatches from the Road, Europe, Extras, Food & Wine, Lost Girl of the Week, Shopping & Style, Spiritual Travel, Tours & Attractions, Train — By on July 16, 2009 at 9:15 pm

pamukkale turkeyThere’s lots of blogs about travel, but fellow Lost Girl Olivia, writes about her “rehab back into daily life” after having the courage to turn her dream of an around-the-world trip into a reality. Here’s how she decided to take a career break, and why she thinks travel should be a priority:

I’m a 28 year old Portlander (Oregon, not Maine) who decided to take a career break after working full-time while pursuing an MBA. It wasn’t until a super last minute, budget trip to Hawaii in 2007 that I started contemplating the possibilities of taking a career break. After several months of planning and thinking about it, I took a “trial” trip to Panama to make sure I really wanted to do it. Duh! The hardest part was just deciding to do it.

So I started my round the world trip in Beijing, China in late February of 2008. From there I traveled to Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, back to Thailand and back through China. I also headed to Eastern Europe, on to Turkey, Greece, Spain, Morocco, and then back to Spain before taking the slow boat (a transatlantic) back to the States and finishing up my travels in Costa Rica. I came back to Oregon to officially start my job search in March. It’s been an amazing year and I’m so glad I made it a priority in my life. I’d do it again in a heartbeat!

I love challenging people (especially us gals) to get out there and
experience something new, even if it’s not taking a whole year off to
travel the world. It’s easy to say “well, I don’t work in media in NYC
like the Lost Girls” or “I can’t afford it” but it’s more about our
priorities and finding ways to follow our dreams.

The more places we check off our travel wish list, the more places we want to see! Eastern Europe is very high up, so we asked Olivia to share her tales about visiting Gothic Churches, Dracula’s Castle, and the Skinniest Street in the World-and why now is a great time to visit Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary.

Exploring Romania: Transylvania to Bucharest

Day 1: After a bus and train ride from Budapest, Hungary we had lunch in the border town of Debrecen. Then, we boarded a 1 car train into Romania and after another bus ride, we arrived in the hill country of Romania for our homestay. It’s great to be able to see more remote places when you’re with a small group. And the train ride was gorgeous scenery. Fields and fields of corn and sunflowers, with rolling hills, and rustic haystacks. It reminded me a bit of Eastern Washington. On the ride from the train station, we went through little towns, that confirm your Eastern European stereotypes from movies, complete with babushka type women sitting out chatting on road-side benches. They just make you smile.

Day 2:
After a quick stop at a supermarket for lunch supplies, we
visited a traditional village life museum. It reminded me of the
“settlers” museums of the Northwest back home. After a picnic beside
the road, we stopped at the palinka place and an old monastery. The
old guy at the palinka place was quite a character. Me thinks he’s had
too much palinka [everyday]. Palinka is a really strong brandy (40 -90% alcohol) and the name supposedly comes from the word “to burn”. To burn, indeed!

Day 4: I’m officially tired of potatoes. How can this be? I love potatoes! Ha! Soup, meat, and potatoes are quite the standard diet here. We tried the local schnapps for dessert and it tasted just like
cough syrup. Rather strong. It’s funny how each region and town seems
to have their own unique beverage. After dinner we waited for the cows
to come. Seriously, they come home at 8:30 every night. They walk as a
herd down the main street and each cow and horse walks in the gate of
their respective homes. It’s genius really. OK, so there were a few
stragglers, but not many. Most of them were very well behaved. One of
the local farmers offered to take my picture with his horse.

Day 6: Sibiu is the cutest little town! Full of plazas and churches
and a river and it’s all quite sweet. So sweet, that it was awarded
the European Capital of Culture in 2007. Forget Italy, if you want a
cheap vacation, while still catching some culture, I’d definitely put
Sibiu on the list. And their Italian food is pretty good. And… the
Romanian language even has an Italian root. Which simply means I can
pick out a very occasional word in Romanian, from the Italian, from
the Spanish.

Day 7: We took the train to Brasov this morning. After a tour of the Black Church, the largest Gothic church in Eastern Europe, we walked through town to the “Skinniest Street in Eastern Europe”, and then
walked to the cable car to visit the other thing Brasov is well-known
for. A quick lesson in politics. How do you get people to vote for
you? Well, in Brasov, the politician said, “Vote for me and I’ll build
a Brasov “Hollywood sign” on the hillside”. So, the people voted for
him and he built a very large, tacky looking Hollywood sign. Quite
simple, really. 😉 Oh and in other news, a local was eaten by a bear
last week. So we took the cable car instead of hiking. After dragging
a bit more of the story out of our guide, he said it was a homeless
person who was sleeping on a bench in the woods, and he probably
smelled like food. Note to self: don’t sleep on a bench in the woods
in bear country.

Dracula FortressDay 8: After a morning visit to Rasnov Fortress, outside of Brasov, we continued on to Dracula’s Castle (Castle Bran). The Fortress was cool to walk around, but not amazing. I also learned that Cold Mountain was filmed in Romania. After grabbing some picnic supplies, we headed to Bran Castle. When we arrived there was a massive line all the way down the hill, but our local guide walked us to the top of the hill, pulled a shady deal with the local Romanian at the top entrance, and we were on our way. Sometimes it pays to wander around with locals. While the castle was impressive, if I had waited for two hours in line, I would have been disappointed.

Day 10: We took the morning train to Bucharest and walked from the
station to our hotel. It was already noon, so we took the metro to
the “Champs-Elysées” of Bucharest and to see the People’s Palace –
Romania’s Parliament building and also the second largest building in
the world, after our very own Pentagon. Bucharest is not my kind of
city. It seems rather soulless and eerily quiet. Perhaps it’s the
history. If I had a week here, I’m sure I’d find all kinds of things
to keep me busy and great little places to prove me wrong, but for now
I’m quite glad to only be spending 24 hours in the city. I’m itching
to get back outside already.

Now is a great time to experience the Eastern European countries of
Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary since you have the ease of travel from
being in the EU, but the cheaper prices since they use their own
currencies still (HUF, RON, & BGN) instead of the Euro. I loved
Romania for the history, meeting local Romanians and the opportunities
to get outside. Customer service is a relatively new concept in
Eastern Europe, but this doesn’t mean that you’ll be treated badly, just
that you have to adjust your expectations. Romania is just about the
polar opposite from Thailand, the land of smiles. And while smiles
are universal, you might just have to work harder in order to receive
one. I kind of enjoyed that aspect, it seemed more genuine. From
chatting with people in more rural areas, it seems like a different
country than being in the capital city, although this is always true,
it seems as if many Romanians still view Bucharest as a part of
Communism and the city that most of their youth have migrated to for
work. But those workers in turn spend their vacations out of the
city, and they seem to have such an optimism when they talk about
rural Romania. Next up, Bulgaria! [Shakes head as “Yes!”]

Map credit: www.contur.ro/ENG/romap.html

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