Well internets... This is it! Our last full day in Europe. We leave before the crack of dawn tomorrow, so it's la revedere to all of the awesome adventures we have had and guten tag to real life. Kinda sad, but we are also excited to get back home.
Today we were so tired from all of this traveling that we decided, since we have been in Frankfurt before, that we would take it easy. Yeah, I said it. Turns out that after 44 days of travel, that we are dog tired. So we spent the entire morning in our hotel room, reading, watching CNN (only English channel), and catching up on the blog. We wrote for probably 3 hours. But guess what? We have written about every day of this trip. That's an accomplishment! Now we get to have this journal for the rest of our lives. Kudos to us.
After becoming stir crazy in our hotel, we decided to go to a really cool shopping center in the middle of town. It was this gigantic 7-story mall! The inside looked like most malls, but the outside was a beaut. Check it.
That's a tunnel of glass running straight through it! Pretty slick. But Angie and I aren't going to pretend that we like shopping, so we basically just walked around, annoying eager salespeople at each store by not even getting close to buying anything.
After the mall we went to the Main Tower, a 54 story panorama view of the entire city! When we got to the top it was as if we could see every country we had visited. We obviously couldn't, but it felt like a fitting activity to do on our final day--just soak in the beauty of this amazing place and remember all of the cool experiences we had.
So there you go everyone! Lets all hang out when we get back, and if you're lucky, we will annoy you with thousands of pictures and say things like "You call that a lasagna? That tastes nothing like an Italian lasagna! The real thing is 100 times better" You know, smug stuff like that. You will love us. Peace and Blessings.
First of all, here is what greeted us in the bathroom when we woke up this morning. How could your day not be great with a start like this?
Do you know another way to start the day? Nazis and Soviets! That is what we spent our morning learning about. So needless to say, it was a pretty positive way to start the day. We went to a really cool museum that used to be both the Nazi and Soviet headquarters while each regime controlled Budapest. There were so many Hungarian victims of genocide, work camps, deportation, and starvation. There were lots of video interviews of those who were affected. It was amazing to learn about a country that we didn't know much about. Another cool thing is that it was completely free! Normally the tickets cost about 10 bucks a piece, but today is some kind of Hungarian holiday so it was free 99. Win.
We gotta give a shout out to Bryan Brockbank. He gave us an awesome list of stuff to do--we wish we could've done it all but we loved what we did see. One of his recommendations was this classy buffet-style restaurant. This place was heaven. Trofea Grill.
There was a salad bar, an entree bar (with some standard but also some true Hungarian foods), a to-order grill with shrimp, chicken, pork, beef, fish, even shark! We had it all, but the best thing that was there was the fruit soup. You read right. Fruit soup. This stuff had the consistency of milk with the taste of a cross between egg nog and a fruit smoothie. There was also this super good spice in it. Holy cow. I went back threw times just for a big cup of fruit soup. Amazing. Thanks Bry.
After lunch/dinner (we ate enough for both), we rolled out of the restaurant and walked along the river that cuts Budapest in half. That's when we saw the parliament building. This place is gorgeous! It's a very ornate building right on the river banks.
Here are a couple other sights we saw on the way. We were lucky because of the Hungarian holiday that everyone was out and about, and selling delish food and souvenirs.
We then went to the fisherman's bastion and Matias' church. It's this huge church that is surrounded by a fortress with cool stone walls that everyone can walk on. It gives a great view of the city.
We loved Hungary! Tomorrow we go back to Germany, which is bonkers that we have really been traveling for more than 40 days. That's a lot. Anyway, peace out Hungary!
We left beautiful Brasov today! But we went to Sighisoara, another beautiul place that I've never been to so that was awesome! It is pretty small and so cute. It actually reminded me of Rothenburg back in Germany a lot, except with a Romanian twist. It's very medieval looking, with a huge city gate and watch tower and tons of beautiful old buildings. I loved it!
When we first made it into the city gates, we saw a sign for "The Torture Room." We thought it was like a museum, and entrance was only 4 lei (a little over a dollar). Steal! We thought we totes lucked out until we walked in and then we understood why it was only 4 lei. It was literally one room, without a whole lot inside except signs that were mostly in other languages.
We did see some crazy pictures though of medieval torture techniques so......that was gross.
There was also a sweet clock tower/watch tower overlooking the city. We climbed up it and on the railing all the way around it had little golden plaques that had the names of major world cities on them, the distance in kilometers it was from that spot, and an arrow telling you which direction. That kind of thing is cool for anyone, but FASCINATING for someone with no sense of direction. Well done Sighisoara.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the city and then got some DELISH Romanian food at this cool restaurant. Sarmale again (of course) but this time with mamaliga (cornmeal mush that really has little to offer other than the sweet nostalgia it brings). Except then we decided to dine-and-dash when I accidentally broke the vase in their centerpiece. Okay, we didn't dine-and-dash, but I absolutely did break the vase with my soda bottle and I felt really bad. Oops!
After our exploring, we headed back to the train station and while we were waiting for our train to show up, Robbie decided to spend his time doing tricks. His first trick was trying to get the OPEN Fanta bottle into his mouth without using his hands from this position. Do you wanna guess what happened about three seconds after this picture was taken?
Needless to say, that was also his last trick. Fanta everywheres.
Once we got him all cleaned up, we caught our train to Cluj. Our plan was to spend the night in Cluj and then the next day, see some sights and then in the afternoon meet up with Gabi Oanta.
Gabi Oanta is the friendliest man that no one knows anything about. He is Romanian and lives in Arad, Romania and is super tight with all the members there and any missionaries that come through. His life, from what we have heard, is crazy and mysterious. Apparently he works for the government, some say as some part of a security agency (like the Romanian CIA or something), but who knows. He doesn't really talk about it. But because of his work, he's gone traveling a lot so we have both only met him once and neither of us know him super well. But he is super nice and is friends with all our mission friends so we wrote him awhile back to get some advice. And holy hannah, we got a lot more than advice! When we asked him if he knew of a cheap place to stay in Arad, he invited us to come stay with him! And then, he thought we could travel around a little more together. And then he thought we could go to the mountains together. Before we knew it, we had about three days worth of stuff we were doing with Gabi. Boo yeah! We knew this was bound to be a good time. Here he is in all his glory.
So like I said, our train arrived in Cluj late, around 11:30pm and we weren't planning on seeing Gabi until the next day. Well guess who was waiting for us at the train station as we rolled in, an hour later than expected? Yep, Gabi Oanta. He had come early as a surprise to take us to the mountains, a little village where his extended family lives called Rachitele. At midnight. Wow. What a guy. He would turn out to shock us with his goodness and hospitality. Such a great, great guy.
So the three of us, the former missionary we had hung out with in Buc (Morgan Ott), and Gabi's friend Vali (who had a car) drove to the Rachitele at midnight. Party of five. We didn't get to bed until about 2:00am and when we finally did we crashed hard.
Do you want to know how many there are total on me now?
We were SO close to making it through this trip without fleas! SO close to victory! I think I'm being punished for my pessimistic attitude about those buggers. I was convinced it would happen. Self-fulfilling prophecy, I suppose. The sad part is that it's not just me this time. Every time I got fleas in the mission, somehow my companions miraculously never got a single bite. But this time Rob is suffering right along with me. Except he doesn't scratch his. And he has to repeatedly keep telling me not to scratch mine too, like the way you would tell a 2-year old not to pick their nose. I understand that it's bad, but sometimes I just can't help myself!
So fleas aside, today was pretty great! We got to cover a lot of ground (like a LOT). Our plan was to leave Arad, Romania and hit Belgrade, Serbia AND Budapest, Hungary. And we did it, and it was crazy. We got to meet another of Gabi's super generous friends, Costa. He had a car and drove us that whole distance just because Gabi asked him to. What?! These people are so great! He was seriously hilarious and loved chatting the whole car ride. When we first met in the morning, I coughed and the first thing he said to me was, "Who on earth gets a cold in the SUMMER?!" (We were obviously meant to be friends). And then the whole car ride, he could not stop talking about how people were going to freak out on our flight home in a few days when they heard me cough and sneeze and they would try to jump out of the plane or throw me out so they don't get sick too. Yikes. Speaking of, I'm feeling a little bit better! Throat less hurty, mostly just the stuffy nose and the cough still (and some occasional sneezing).
So we drove and drove and finally made it to Belgrade, Serbia around lunchtime. The main reason we went to Belgrade is to see a good friend of mine, Jessica, who works for the American Embassy there. Our original plan was to be dropped off by the boys (who also wanted to see Belgrade) and stay with her for at least that night, maybe two nights, and have a nice relaxing couple days of catching up and taking it easy with her while seeing this cool new place we knew nothing about. However, plans changed when Gabi found out that Robbie's passport has that expiration issue (remember how he almost couldn't get on the flight from Greece to Romania). We never understood why that was the only time it was a problem, but Gabi offered us an explanation. I'll try to make it quick but it's kind of complicated. Apparently, there is a union of countries within the European Union (like a club within a club) that travelers can move back and forth from without ever having to use their passports (almost like there are no borders between them). All the countries we have hit so far have been in that elite club. All except for Romania (hence the airport issue when we left Greece) and Serbia. Unfortunately, our flight back home is out of Frankfurt, Germany, which means that since we left the boundaries of that elite club, we have to get back into it before we can get home. Since Hungary is also in the club, if we could get across the border from Serbia to Hungary, then we would have no trouble getting from Hungary to Germany (no borders). Whew! Long, complicated explanation.
So Gabi was sure we would have problems getting into Hungary because of Rob's passport expiration date (again, learn from us. Renew your passports if they are even close to expiring!) Since Gabi works for the government, he wanted to be with us when we crossed that border so he could schmooze and use his connections to help us get across. Unfortunately, he could only do it today. Which means we didn't really have a choice. We couldn't stay in Belgrade. The way he was talking about it, we couldn't risk not getting across the border because worst case scenario who knows? We might have to order Rob a new passport and it might not come before our flight home and we might be stuck here begging on the streets for weeks until we could buy a new plane ticket home, digging through garbages for Fornetti remnants and we just didn't want to worry about it all.
So since we only had a couple hours to spend in Serbia, we met Jess for lunch at the embassy and it was SO great to see her. She was totally understanding of our situation, but we were both way bummed that we couldn't stay the night. We'll try to make it back Jess!
This was my first time going into an embassy and it was intense! I guess it has to be though, since entrance to an embassy is basically like crossing a border. And we basically walked in with a huge posse. Once we got in, sweet Jess bought us all lunch and we just chatted away. She is the greatest.
Once we left the embassy, we found a place to park for one hour, which means we were going to see all we could of this brand new city of Belgrade in one hour. ONE HOUR! Let me tell you, I wouldn't recommend speed-sight-seeing. We ran (literally) from place to place, not really having a ton of time to understand what we were looking at, and then running to the next thing before we could dwell on it. It was crazy! And as if that wasn't crazy enough, in the midst of it all, we lost Costa! It felt like losing a child. We searched all around for him before we finally found him. Oh Costa, always wandering off :)
Here are some of the sights we saw and things we learned in that quick hour:
Apparently, some Serbians don't really love Americans. It might have something to do with these buildings we bombed a few years back (I think in 2006 or 2007). It was over a really controversial issue, the US believed they were commiting genocide. They believed they were not. (There's more to it than that, but it's hard to explain briefly, so I will let you look it up). Anyway, because of that, there are some who still have a lot of beef with America. So much that as a precaution, Gabi told us to speak only in Romanian on the streets. I'm sure nothing would have happened, but just in case there was a crazy out there who felt like settling the score, we followed his advice.
We also went this fortress that overlooked the city, and all over it were tanks and cannons from various wars they have fought over the years. It was crazy cool.
And BNOTD (Best News Of The Day), Robbie found Fanta Shokata, his favorite soda drink from the mission that he has been looking for ever since we got to Europe! This alone will make him look back on our time in Serbia with love and tenderness.
Back to the car! This is when we made the LONG drive from Belgrade to Budapest. These guys were seriously so amazing. Not only did they take us across the border, but then when we insisted we could take a train the rest of the way to Budapest, they threw us back in the car and drove us all the way there themselves! We didn't even make it to Budapest until around 11:00pm and then they still had to drive all the way back to Arad, Romania that night! They are the stinkin best, most generous people in the world. Even when we got to our hotel, Gabi marched right up to our room with a worker while we were checking in just to personally see to it that the room met his standards. Are you kidding me?! What a great guy. I don't know if he will ever read this but we seriously need to dedicate some space just to Gabi and how good he has been to us over the last few days. He always made sure we were taken care of (even when it was clearly not his job), he gave us food, beds, rides, fun, new friends, and so much more. He's a busy guy and hardly knew us, but he went above and beyond in showing us a part of Romania (and other counties) that we had never experienced before. This trip has totally changed the way we view hospitality and making visitors feel at home in your house. When we told him how grateful we have been for all he's done for us, he just said that he has had an awesome life because of the goodness of others, and that he has received way more than he has given. I don't know if I believe that, but I do believe that people here are raised to be good and kind and generous to everyone they meet. They see service as this amazing opportunity to show someone as much love as possible rather than act annoyed or put off or even indifferent. When we grow up, we want to be like Gabi. And the Matei's. And Sora Gorzo. And Rosie. And all these other amazing people we have met.
Buckle up, this is a long one! (AKA Angie's Mission Memories Vol. 1)
Today was the craziest, busiest day we've had in awhile! Today we got to spend the day in Arad, where I (Angie) spent the last three months of my mission. It is a very special place to me for a lot of reasons. For one thing, I think the last area you serve in always has special meaning. But I also had amazing companions (Ania Popa Tamas and Allison Jensen Jepsen), there was an amazing branch there, we had a great district that played hard and worked hard, and we taught an amazing woman that remains my closest friend from Romania, Florina. It is just such an amazing, special place and Robbie and I were able to see so many of the people that made my time in Arad so special, and we did it all in one day! It was a whirlwind to say the least.
Also, I forgot to mention that yesterday, I woke up with a scratchy throat which by the end of the night last night had exploded into a full-blown, hurty-throated, stuffy-nosed, sneezing-every-second, yucky-headed, middle-of-the-summer COLD. Who gets a cold in the middle of the summer?! I demand to know the meaning of this.
So knowing that this cold was just starting its path of destruction through my respiratory system, and knowing that we had only ONE day (this day) to see all the people from this city I really cared about seeing in this whole trip, I was more than a little nervous about how things would turn out today. I said a prayer that morning that somehow it would work out. That I would be able to make it through the day with enough energy to see them all and be able to focus on visits with them rather than drift away mentally in a stuffy-headed mess. And guess what?!
My prayer was answered.
I am here to testify that miracles happen. Without the added strength I gained from that prayer, I know I would not have made it through like I did. I kid you not when I say that I felt terrible before we left for church and I felt even worse as we traveled back home at the end of the night, but miraculously in the in-between time I barely felt the effects of my cold at all. I can't even describe what a blessing it was. So so grateful for answers to prayers! I love the gospel!
So as for the actual day today, we headed to church where I really hoped I'd be able to see all the members I loved so much. I was actually a little scared that they wouldn't remember me since so many missionaries come through there. Well, I could not have been happier when Jany, the middle-aged, mullet-sportin rocker that I loved so much came up to me as soon as he saw me and gave me a big hug. This guy is the best. He's obsessed with music and the walls of his apartment are covered with floor to ceiling posters of Black Sabbath, KISS, The Doors and more that have been up for ages. And then between each huge poster are little pictures of Jesus and Joseph Smith all around that were added when Jany found the church. He is so great.
I also got to see Mama Mogos and she gave me the biggest, longest hug I've gotten in a long time! She is one of the most amazing members of all time! More about her in a minute since we got to visit her at home after church.
We saw some other great members, but sadly a lot were missing. Either gone for the summer on vacation, or they just don't come to church anymore for whatever reason. Breaks my heart. But there were also some new faces so the church is definitely still growing! And we were able to track down some of the ones I couldn't see at church.
One of the people we wanted to see the most was Florina, the woman I had worked with the whole time I was in Arad. Florina was found by my good friend and MTC companion, Brianna Griffith Jensen a few months before I got to Arad, and after a long road of quitting coffee and quitting smoking and coming to terms with a lot of personal trials in her life, she embraced the gospel and was baptized on February 3, 2008, my last day in Arad. She is amazing and truly one of my best friends. Unfortunately, she is working in Italy now. We tried so hard to work out a way to see each other but we couldn't make it work with her schedule and our location. That was seriously the biggest bummer of our whole trip. But I am confident we will see each other again sometime soon!
We did get to see three of the young member girls I had worked with a lot in that city. We caught Andra briefly as we walked through the city on the way to the mall, where we reunited with Timi and Emi (who were working in the mall) and it was so great to see them! They were so fun and such good good girls. We got to visit for a half hour or so before they had to get back to work, but I'm so glad I saw them!
Emi and Timi
We then had to get quickly to Sora Mogos' house (Mama Mogos) to meet her and her husband for a quick visit. Since we were running late and didn't have a lot of time to spend there, we broke our cardinal rule of this trip.
We caught a taxi.
We swore we wouldn't do it! We would make it through this whole trip going the cheap way, not wasting precious money on crazy taxi prices, but alas, with only 5 days left, we failed. Sad, but worth it in the end. We got to see Sora Mogos AND catch a train to Timisoara (a nearby city) to see another friend, which we could not have done without our taxi friend. Plus, he serenaded us by singing Simon and Garfunkel the whole ride, so really we won in the end.
Now, let me take just a second to explain why Mama Mogos is so incredible. This woman is one of the most faithful, diligent members I ever met in all of Romania. As an investigator (years before my time), her first time attending church was when they were showing General Conference. As she walked in, President Hinckley was on the screen speaking and she says that as she sat there listening to this foreign man she didn't know anything about speaking, she was overwhelmed with the feeling that he was speaking the words of God. She knew without even being told that this was a prophet of God. And she has never given that up. And what's more, she totally lives the gospel! When I was serving there 5 years ago, Sora Mogos lost her job. Instead of being angry or frustrated, she put her situation in the hands of The Lord and decided that since she had enough to live on for awhile, she would use all her extra time to serve people. She made a full-time job (every hour that she would have been at work) out of doing service for others. She is amazing! So we sat and talked with her and I just remembered the admiration and respect I always felt for her and the other strong members who were such amazing examples to me, and was overcome with feeling all over again. I love Romania.
Finally, we left Sora Mogos' house to make one more stop. We took a 90-minute train ride to a neighboring city, Timisoara, to see two of my favorite member missionaries, David and Ania Tamas. They are two more amazing members who sacrificed a ton for the church. In Romania, members of the church can choose to serve a "mini-mission" which means they become temporary missionaries for one full transfer (6 weeks) if there is a need. They basically sacrifice everything they have going on in their lives to help us out for 6 weeks and live the missionary life, finding people and teaching the gospel. Both David and Ania served not once, but several times as mini-missionaries, and I was lucky enough to serve with both of them at different times. Ania was my companion in Arad (she was Ania Popa back then) and kept me laughing every second. We got to be together for most of the Christmas season and it was the most authentic Romanian Christmas I could have gotten as a missionary. And I served with David twice, in Cluj and Ploiesti. I will never forget when that sweet boy made fried chicken for our whole district one P-Day, and my poor companion bit into it to find the entire thing raw on the inside. It was an accident, but David could not stop laughing! Oh man, good memories. Anyway, I loved them both SO much, that when I found out after my mission that they had started dating and then got married, I could not contain myself, I was so excited! They now have two kids, are still strong, amazing members of the church and live in Timisoara. Needless to say, it was a joyous reunion. Not only what it amazing to see them just because they were good friends, but we also were able to reminisce about crazy missionary life together. They are so so great!
Also, sidenote, I forgot to mention that on the train to Timisoara, we were both so fired up with all these mission memories that we got talking to a fun couple next to us and told them a little about the gospel. And they were super curious! The guy kept asking us questions! It was awesome and such a perfect way to end our time in Romania :)
So after hanging out with the Tamas family for as long as we could, we had to catch the train back to Arad. On that ride, my cold came back full-force and I realized for the first time how blessed I had been all throughout the day. We were pooped and ready for bed, but remembered on our way home that we still needed to finish the laundry that we had started at Gabi's house that morning. We stumbled into the house around 11pm to find that Gabi had washed all our clothes and folded them neatly on the couch. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! Is there no end to this guy's goodness?! Then he spent the next hour helping us figure out our travel plans and flights for the rest of the trip.
As we awoke this morning, we experienced the sinking feeling that we had to leave this paradise. Even though we had only been here for little over a day, we felt like part of the family.
We had another great breakfast from Ati and Ana, and goofed around with their three year old son Mihai, who was preparing to run a 1 km race that day. He was convinced that he would win it all and get the prize, but only after strict and dedicated preparation. Mihai asked that others opened doors for him so that he wouldn't waste any energy before the race. Seriously? This kid has a personality, that's for sure.
After training Mihai, we were taken to a waterfall nearby in the mountains. This waterfall was gorgeous, and to make it better there was a zipline! Angie went and loved it. Here she is!
Ati also made me this awesome hat. Gotta protect the scalp.
Throughout this whole trip Ati teased us about being American and that he was a superior Romanian, living off the land. Whenever we would move on to the next activity/meal, Ati would rhetorically ask "They don't have that in America I bet!" He would say this about absurd stuff like watermelons or waterfalls. At first, we thought he had no clue what was in America, then we thought that he was making fun of America (which you just don't do, especially if Angie is around), then we realized he was just having fun with us. So we eventually played along with him. We became so comfortable with these people--they made it so easy. Anyway, the waterfall was gorgeous. On the way back, Ati put Mihai on his lap and would let Mihai steer the jeep. Mihai would jerk the wheel back and forth, while we were on mountain paths! Ati wasn't worried in the least, but we were a little nervous in the back seat.
Then it was time to say goodbye.
We made our rounds of goodbyes and promised to stay in touch. We made sure to save Tavu and Tusi for last. They surprised us with a three course meal before we left. For real? Amazing people. We had ciorba (sour broth soup) with dumplings, stuffed peppers in the most scrumtrulescent sauce, and cherry pastry dessert. Mmmm, mmmm, mmmmm! They said that they wouldn't dream of sending us off with empty stomachs. They both served us each of the courses, while not eating themselves. When we asked them to sit and eat with us, Tusi said that they would wait until we left so that Tavu could feed Tusi bite-by-bite in privacy. "How romantic!" from Tavu. We just love these people!
Here are a few pics of saying goodbye to some of the family.
Back row: Onut, Angie, Robbie, Gabi, Tusi
Middle row: Vali (our driver friend), Ati, and Tavu
Saying goodbye was rough. On our way home we visited an aunt of Gabi's. she was this cute hard working chubby lady that had a huge garden and farm. Here are some pics:
Piglets and chickens! Cool.
Without even asking for any of the fruit that was growing in the farm, Gabi's aunt gave us two buckets worth of plums and tomatoes. She also gave us tons of garlic, peppers, onions, and everything else. As we left and were driving away, I wondered how Gabi would be able to get through all this food by himself.
Thirty minutes later we arrived in Arad and were at the home of some more of Gabi's extended family. He gave them all the food he had received from his aunt. Just when you think there is an end to Gabi's giving, he surprises you again. But this is just how he is, and how so many Romanians are. Blows us away.
Today was INCREDIBLE! We awoke to the sound of roosters in a beautiful cabin-home nestled in the hills of Rachitele (Ruh-keets-eh-leh). Since we arrived at 1:30 a.m., we didn't get to meet our hosts until this morning and they are the most generous, thoughtful, and fun hosts ever. They are a small, young family (Ati, Ana, and Mihai). Ati is a park ranger, Ana is a teacher, and Mihai is their cute, genius 3 year-old. They offered us some delicious salata de vinete (eggplant spread), bread, cheese, and fruit for breakfast in the usual Romanian fashion; we received the lion's share while they hardly ate, claiming they were already full from... eating in their sleep? I dunno. They are too nice. More on hospitality later.
Later we were taken around the village to meet the rest of Gabi's extended family and neighbors. The bunici (grandparents) of the village are named Onut and Catalina, two four-foot-nothin' oldies that were so excited to meet us, show us their small home, and introduce us to their cow, pig, and chickens.
This is Onut. Catalina was shy about being in photos, which is sad because she is the most iconic la tara grandma with no teeth. Adorbs.
We met other family members but our favorites were Tavu and Tusi, Gabi's uncle and aunt. They were SO kind to us and kept giving us food and showing the village off with pride. Next to their home is a constantly flowing fountain of the freshest water from a mountain spring. When you normally drink water, it's almost like there is an absence of taste... because it's water. But this water was the cleanest, freshest, coldest water ever! It somehow had this amazing taste, but Angie and I can't describe it. I bet this is where Waterboy got his magical bottle of water that he wore around his neck. Any Waterboy fans out there? Yeah, didn't think so.
Anway, everyone in the village constantly bragged about how all of the food, water, and their way of life was purely "bio:" 100% without chemicals, preservatives, or fast food mentalities. Each home had a garden and a couple animals from which they harvested food and other necessities.
Iwish these photos did this place justice, but they don't.
We were taken to a lake next to the village, and on the way we bought the most amazing bread we have ever had. Can you tell we love this place? This bread was thick and fluffy on the inside, flaky and crispy on the outside, hot from the oven. Dang! This bread must be documented.
The lake was gorgeous, surrounded by pine trees and dotted with homes with docks extending into the lake. We just chilled on a little beach of sand for a little while, munching on our perfect bread. This is the life!
The highlight of the day came at night. Our new friends put on this huge barbecue and music-fest for us. The food was amazing, but the singing was the best part. A family friend, Sebi, who comes often to hang out with the village, backs up his car next to the pavilion under which we had our dinner. Then he starts pumpin' the Romanian folk jams. He and Tavu sang a bunch of fun songs, one of which had some awesome lyrics. "Make sure to drink sour milk so that the devil can't take you away." While they were singing, they each had one arm around the other. In their other hands, Sebi held a glass and Tavu held a long-before-eaten watermelon slice, leaving only the rind. They were so lost in the music, that everyone around couldn't help but watch them and listen as they sang song after song. Sometimes Gabi would join in and it was so entertaining. Most of the songs were upbeat, but the last one of the night (around midnight now) was a near-and-dear one to every Romanian. As Sebi sang, Angie and I were really moved! Sebi sang with all his soul. Ati turned to us in the middle of the song and said "Sebi doesn't sing music, he lives it." True dat. It was a memory that I hope I never forget. I grew to love Romanians on my mission, but there was apparently more room in my heart--I think my heart grew three sizes that night.
Today was an emotional roller coaster that's for sure. We went to the Alexandria branch for church and it was an amazing experience. When I was here, we were a few members meeting in a school auditorium. Now we are meeting in a beautiful villa with offices, classrooms, and a sacrament room. Unfortunately many of the members that I baptized either have moved away or no longer can attend church for one reason or another. However, there were some amazing new members that we were able to meet before service began.
Next was Cryfest 2013. President Matei asked Angie and I to speak, oh boy. First was Sora Matei, who cried as she said how happy she was that we were there.
So when my turn came, I obviously kept my composure throughout my entire turn. And when I say "kept my composure" I meant "cried the entire time," probably not being understood due to my blubbering and having not spoken in Romanian like that for 7 years. Yikes. Needless to say, it was a powerful experience for me to look out across the small congregation while reminiscing about when we first arrived to Alexandria. I just loved these members for their strong faith, courage, and examples.
Angie was next and she didn't cry as much as me, she's a rock. She was a little emotional at first, but then bore such a strong testimony that I was blown away. I love her! So great.
After church, we gathered some of the members who hasn't left yet on the steps of the villa and here we are! The girl with glasses is preparing to serve a full time mission, which would make her the first missionary to leave from Alexandria!
After church we went back to the Matei's home and chatted for the rest of the day. We ate delicious food, talked about anything and everything until it was time for us to take the last bus back to Bucuresti. We said goodbye to Lord and Rookie, and headed to the bus stop with the Mateis.
If there is anything that I hate more than goodbyes, it is writing/describing them. We were at the bus station, and it was difficult to say goodbye. We hugged all three of them, and I saw how strongly the Matei family cared for Angie already. We don't know when we will be able to come back and visit in Romania, so it was painful to leave.
We entered the bus and sat on the back row. These buses are equipped with curtains that cover the windows. Angie and I were waiting for the bus to leave when I just felt like I should open the curtain right next to me. When I opened the curtain, I was surprised to see Sora Matei standing outside my window. She had been looking for me to say one more goodbye. That was the dagger. I knew I was leaving my Romanian family. Whew. Tough.
We got to Sora Gorzo's that night and we learned some old Romanian songs from her. Sorry we didn't take many photos today, we will for sure take more in the future. Tomorrow is Brasov!
So it turns out, beautiul Brasov was the land of "almosts." Two days ago, we almost got to go inside Peles Castle. Yesterday, we almost got to hike Sapte Scari. And today, we almost went to Bran Castle (the infamous "Dracula's Castle"). That was our plan anyway, but when poor Robbie woke up with major probleme la stomac, plans changed. We couldn't leave the hotel room for fear of being more than 30 seconds away from a bathroom at any given moment. Poor guy. We can't figure out what did it, because we eat all the same things, off the same plates. Weird.
Anyway, since we couldn't leave, we returned to our favorite show (for lack of better options): Storage Wars!! We watched so many today that we are starting to get really into it. Darrel is obvi our favorite, and we get really excited when he makes big bucks off his storage units. And good ol' Jarrod and Brandi just keep us a laughin' with all their bickering. Good times on the history channel. Speaking of, since when did the history channel become more about "life in the boonies" than actual history? A little confused on that one.
At one point, I had to go to the train station and buy our train tickets for tomorrow morning, and since Rob was still feeling super iffy, I opted to go out on my own. I know that probably doesn't seem like a big deal to you guys because hey, we are traveling! That's what you do! But the thing is, Robbie and I have never been separated this trip and without him I have no, like ZERO, sense of direction. Seriously, he laughs so hard because every time we walk out the door of a store or hotel or anything, I automatically turn and start walking the opposite direction I'm supposed to (on accident). You'd think I'd have a 50/50 chance of getting it right but no, I am wrong 100% of the time. He told me I should just start doing the exact opposite of whatever my instincts tell me and then I'll be alright. Part of me wanted to act offended at that, but I know it's true. Anyway, so he drew me a little map of the city and where our hotel was and I ventured off. And guess what?! It was awesome! I totally found my way around and what's more, I felt so free. I realized that I have NEVER been alone in Romania. As a missionary, I was always with a companion every second of every day. When I went back a year later, I was with my parents and friends the whole time. And this week, I have been with my love the whole time. So it felt strangely wrong to be wandering alone. Wrong, and yet so right.
I made it home safely (with a bag of Fornetti, oops!) and we watched some other history channel shows (obviously not as cool as Storage Wars, but unfortunately it's not on a continuous loop all day). In the late afternoon, Rob was finally feeling confident enough to get some fresh air so we went out to see some of the city.
First, we took a cable car to the top of the mountain overlooking the city to the Hollywood-esque "Brasov" sign up at the top. We totes would have hiked it if Robbie had been feeling better. His sickness was the only reason we did not climb up that beast of a mountain on foot. (Right? Was I convincing enough? Let's get real now, sometimes being sick has major benefits for you and your significant other). But man, WOW, it really was super pretty up there. The city is really gorgeous. And the sign is actually WAY bigger than it looks from down in the valley. I know that seems like a "duh" comment, but I'm just sayin, I was surprised.
Then we went and found "Strada Sforii," famous for being one of, if not the smallest street in Europe. It is less than an armspan wide (basically a cobblestone path) and is considered a real street! It's pretty cool. We tried to scale the walls really high, and Robbie did awesome. People stared in awe. Then I tried and fell down right after the picture was taken because of a charley horse in my hamstring. What? Am I 70 years old? Oh well.
Rob was finally feeling hungry, so we got him some food. Unfortunately, we don't make the smartest decisions. We got him KFC. Maaaaaaaaaaaybe not the best thing to eat if you've been having stomach problems all day (especially since Romanian KFC's have a notorious reputation for giving people stomach problems). Needless to say, later that night he was right back where he started the day. Poor, poor guy. So we came back and took it easy for the rest of the night.