How Piercing My Nose Changed Me

How piercing my nose changed me. From scaredy-cat to kind of brave.
It’s cloudy and rainy when we walk into the piercing shop in Brasov, Romania. One of those bone-chilling days where the right idea is to stay inside and do nothing. But, with a new city outside my hostel door, sitting inside is the last thing I want to do. So, with a new friend at my side, the two of us venture out. And, end up in this little piercing shop.

“I’ve always wanted to get my nose pierced,” I announce to my friend as we stare at the selections.

“Well, you should do it,” he says.

I let the thought cross my mind, and quickly let it leave.

Truth: I’m a chicken

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Romanian sunsets, Hungarian mornings and Polish afternoons

I stood outside at 22h 40 (I know, very European of me), backpack strapped tight to me, messenger bag slung across my front and purse on my arm.

Whew.

It was time to depart Cluj and head to Krakow. Via bus. Back to Budapest.

When Arpad first told me I had to take a bus to Budapest in order to get to Krakow, I immediately tried for other options.

“Why don’t you want to stop in Budapest?” he had asked.

Aside from backtracking, Budapest and I were still at odds. Only a little, but still. I would have rather trekked from Ukraine like I had originally planned.

But, bus to Budapest it was.

So, there I stood, in the dark outside of a hotel, looking for the bus that would whisk me back to Hungary and then on to Krakow via an Orange Ways bus at 6 a.m.

I was actually a bit bewildered.

I didn’t see a bus. Anywhere.

“Miss, miss,” called the cab driver who had dropped me at the lot. “Here, follow me.”

I picked up step behind him as he walked me away from where I was standing and towards a tiny cluster of people smoking outside of an overgrown white minivan.

“Here,” he said, gesturing for me to stop at the van.

Right. This isn’t a bus.

“Hi,” I said to a man standing at the van door, who seemed to be the driver. “Budapest?”

“Yes, yes,” he said, motioning me to follow him to the back of the van. “Luggage?”

I took off my backpack and placed it on the ground.

Where was it going to go? The van wasn’t like a bus that has the storage underneath.

Then, I saw it. The U-Haul-esque attachment to the van, hooked at the back. My luggage was going to go in there.

“Thanks,” I said, handing him my backpack and keeping my other two bags as pillows. I got in the van and grabbed a seat, trying to fathom the next five hours of driving to get back to Hungary.

Once we departed, I noticed there were only six or so people riding, so I took over two seats, trying to balance myself on the cushions that seemed a few inches too short, and trying to keep the arm of the  seat out of my back.

I slept on and off as we drove through the still of the Romanian night, waking up when I got too hot, when we stopped and at the border.

When we arrived in Hungary at 4:30 a.m., I was glad. Only seven or so more hours of driving until I could get to a bed and catch some real sleep.

The bus to Krakow from Budapest was nothing like the van ride.

Orange Ways is a machine. They pipe in movies. They have wifi (although it wasn’t working on my trip). They even have coffee and hot chocolate. And, they have packed busses. Packed.

I sat in the second to last row of the bus on the aisle, ready to pass out. I could feel the exhaustion seeping into my body, my head growing heavy, my eyes fighting to stay open.

And, that’s when three drunk-from-the-night-before Brits walked onto the bus, past my seat and sat behind me. Smelling like a bar and lots of liquor. Ready to party.

I heard beer cans crack open and ignored it.

I listened as they talked on and on about partying and then put my headphones on to drown them out.

Then, they decided they want to have a party on the bus. So, they opeedn up their laptop and put on some techno for everyone to listen to. At 6 in the morning.

Now, I’m a pretty chill person. There are very few times I will ever ask anyone to stop doing something. Those times are:

– Having sex in a dorm room. C’mon on. I don’t need to hear/see it.

– Talking loudly in a dorm room in the middle of the night when everyone else is sleeping. It takes two moments to go outside.

– Playing loud and crappy techno at 6 a.m. on a bus with a captive audience.

When I could hear the thwackthwackthwack above my music, it was time to turn around. Luckily, they were cool about it and turned it off.

About 30 minutes later, they were all passed out.

And, six hours later, I was walking through the streets of Krakow.

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“GLEE” in Cluj-Napoca

Ginny and I awoke the next morning and popped some headache medicine (one of the first times this trip I actually needed to take something). I don´t know how she managed, but a few minutes later, Ginny was out and about, heading to meetings.

After she met with a professor, we packed our belongings, left them in the room and headed out for our last day in the city.

Armed with her guidebook, we navigated Cluj, taking in everything we could in an afternoon — the churches, the Hungarian cemetery, gelato.

By the evening, we were both beat so we decided we needed to unwind. We weren’t feeling social, so instead we took my little computer into a kitchen at Retro and tried our luck to stream “GLEE.” (Helpful hint for those who want to watch American TV abroad, go to www.watch-series.com)

And, it worked.

“GLEE” was one of my favorite shows in America before I left to travel. Since I had begun my journey in March, I had not watched a bit of American television.

But, in that kitchen, watching Sue Sylvester bash Will Schuster’s curls, it took me back to such a happy spot … sitting on my butter yellow couch in Atlanta, cats curled up at my side, nice glass of red to sip on.

Ginny and I sat, heads planted on the kitchen table, watching the episode, trying to drown out the chatter coming from the reception room, and allowing ourselves to be taken back to America.

It felt nice to be transported from a hostel to a Ohio high school for 45 minutes.

But, when it was over, it felt even nicer to be in Romania.

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An American in Cluj

Ginny sat, blonde hair pulled back, on a bed in the adjacent room, examining her belongings.

“Hello,” I said, exercising my voice for the first time pretty much the entire day.

And, that was it. Ginny, a former Peace Corps volunteer, and I were instant friends. Originally from South Carolina, Ginny was in Transylvania doing research. She’s a historian studying at Oxford, so for the few days she was in Cluj, she spent some of her time meeting other historians and researching in the library.

The rest of the time, we spent together, exploring Cluj, eating and drinking.

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Next stop: Cluj-Napoca

The day following our little Romanian Road Trip, it was time to head out. Tommy and Benjamin had left the previous night, Chris was leaving at the crack of dawn for Istanbul (and an Anzac Day event), and I was boarding a train northeast to Cluj-Napoca for some more time in Romania.

The trip from Brasov to Romania was beautiful. The clouds hung low in the sky, gray against bright green rolling hills and the odd trees poking out of the ground, boasting the first blooms of spring.

And then, after six hours and some harassing by gypsy children, there it was in the distance, spreading up one of those rolling hills in red and yellow and all sorts of pretty, Cluj-Napoca.

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Steering wheel death grips and driving in Romania

Remember, 10 and 2, D. 10 and 2. And, go slowly. Very, very slowly.

Car packed with the three Aussies, I pulled out into Brasov’s traffic.

Oh. My. God. I hope we don’t die. I hope I don’t kill anyone. I hope I don’t hurt this car because I really, really cannot afford to lose the 400 Euro deposit.

My shoulders were tight and nearly touching my ears. My arms were locked straight out. And my hands kept tight on the steering wheel as nearly six weeks of not driving paralyzed me. That, and never having driven in another country.

How did I get roped into being the driver?

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Three Aussies and an American

I was laying in bed Saturday morning when I met Chris, a shaggy brown-haired, adorably cute Aussie.

I was exhausted — the night before Benjamin, Tommy and I headed out with Scott and Heidi (my friends from Budapest), along with a group of four who had rented a car for the night to get out of Bucharest. We enjoyed traditional Romania fair at Sergianna (delicious) and then headed back to Crew Bar, where we were treated to complimentary drinks and a game involving dice ensued.

Actually, it was a nasty little game that revolved around rolling one die and stating before the roll if a specific number was rolled, then something would be done.

For example, Benjamin said if he rolled a four, he would drink a double shot of whiskey. And Scott said the number he rolled would be the number of shots he would drink. And Ryan, a new member to our group, said if he rolled a two, he would buy a bottle of wine.

The die won those rounds and more, and after we left Crew Bar, we ended up in Kismet’s basement, playing cards and drinking more beer.

The next morning, well … suffice to say, we all felt like a million bucks.

After attempting to stay awake with Benjamin to watch “Beer Fest,” I slowly crawled back up Kismet’s spiral staircase to Ageeth’s Room to my bed.

And, that’s where Chris comes in, my main partner in crime (and breakfast-maker and perhaps travel buddy to Morocco) in Brasov.

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Hello, Travel Bliss

I knew as soon as I boarded the train for Brasov, Romania from Budapest, I was going to get out of my funk (and out of Schengen Europe for a few days).

I exited the station and was greeted with more rain, but I didn’t mind. I had a good feeling. Even when the cab drivers tried to swindle me (“I will take you to the hostel for 15 euros, it’s a good deal”; “I will take you for 10, it’s a better deal”; “The meter is more expensive, you don’t want me to use the meter”), I didn’t let it get to me.

SIDE NOTE: If in Romania, METER is the only way to go unless you work out a killer deal and hire a driver to take you outside of town. If you don’t have the meter on for small distances, you WILL be taken advantage of and spend more money than you ever imagined possible. Legit cabs will have their rates on the side of the car.

One kind driver heard me talking to the other cabbies and offered me a ride, meter on. So, much to the other driver’s dismay, I skipped the line and dropped my bags into his waiting trunk.

Exhausted, I arrived to Kismet Dao and dropped my bags in the common room, curling up in a little ball as I waited for a bed to open.

A few minutes later, I was wrapped in blankets in bed and asleep. When I awoke, I went downstairs, laptop in tow because I  had to update Facebook so Mom and Dad would know I was OK (naturally).

And, there was Mark, an Aussie, on his laptop. He had been at the hostel for eight days and was ready to head to Istanbul. We talked for a bit about his time in Brasov (the places to check out), and then I met two other Aussies, Ryan and Amy, and they offered to walk around town with me. Then, Mark decided to stay one more night … the hostel was hopping with people.

The four of us headed out to explore Brasov. We walked up to the start of the hill containing the Brasov sign (like the Hollywood sign in California) with plans to take the gondola up to see the countryside, but it wasn’t open.

Instead, we walked down to the narrowest street in Eastern Europe and then, when it began to rain more, we decided to hit Crew Bar and get a drink, then some Mexican food (yes, I know … D, you’re in Romania).

That night, there was a birthday party in the basement followed by a group outing (Mark and Ryan donned togas for the occasion) back to Crew Bar. It was about 10 of us — the toga-clad Aussies, three Canadian gals, an American girl, a Brit and then Benjamin and Tommy (Aussies) — who ended up being there during my entire stay.

The next morning I didn’t feel the best, but I sure as hell was happy.

I was over the Lonely and deep back into my Travel Bliss.

That was Friday morning. The next four days in Brasov were much of the same … and even better.

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How to be a superfly hostel (The List)

Hostels — love them or hate them — most backpackers have to stay in them.

What makes a superfly hostel, D?

I’m glad you asked.

1. 24 hour reception for people who take the night train and arrive early in the morning … or late at night.

There is nothing worse than arriving to your hostel and finding you can’t even get in the front door until 9 or 10 a.m. That makes 4 a.m. arrivals miserable. And, there is nothing comfortable about sleeping on a front step of a hostel in a new city. For me, a hostel that doesn’t offer 24-hour reception is a deal-breaker. I am fine if I can’t get a bed right away, but at least let me in off the street so I can put my bag down and close my eyes in a safe environment.

2. Common rooms.

Meeting people isn’t too difficult in a hostel, especially if you are sleeping in a dorm … that just breeds conversation. But, a key factor for those not in a dorm, or just not ridiculously chatty is the common room. Most hostels have them. The good ones have them placed strategically near reception allowing new arrivals to peek their heads in and survey the guests. The great hostels not only have centrally located common rooms, but have them stocked with couches, tables, chairs, a TV, speakers, etc. to facilitate a friendly, interactive environment.

3. Kitchen.

Backpackers have a budget (afterall, money spent on beer is a much better investment than on food, right??) so a kitchen is a necessity. Hostel kitchens have the staples — pots, pans, microwaves, stoves, utensils. The really good kitchens will even have salt, pepper and oil (bring your own olive oil, it’s too pricey to give away at most hostels). Hostels with big kitchens score more points for me. Even more points go to hostels with a table in it big enough for more than two people to sit and enjoy their food. And, a note to you backpackers — don’t steal food. It’s bad karma and a travel no-no. Buy your own, cook your own and when you leave, if you have leftovers you can’t take with you, mark it as “communal” so others can enjoy. I repeat — DO NOT STEAL (MY) FOOD.

4. Lounge for parties.

Aside from the common room, there needs to be a room for travelers to enjoy new friends and old in a place that won’t keep the entire hostel up until the wee hours of the morning. I like rooms like this in the basement. Even if a group is loud, it isn’t as bad as having it in an area where you can hear every word while trying to sleep.

5. BBQ for impromptu cook outs.

Cooking pasta day in and day out gets old. When you’ve got a group, a great, tasty and economical option for chowing down is the barbie. In Hvar, the BBQ was perfect — overlooking the Adriatic. Not every hostel has the killer views Green Lizard had, but a BBQ adds a different social element to the mix — cooking and drinking beers and enjoying the outdoors with friends, simultaneously.

6. Free wifi.

Staying in touch (and writing blog posts) is important so if a hostel doesn’t have wifi, it means having to haul your computer to a cafe, or wait for hours for the lone hostel computer to open up. So, free wifi is a must. Bonus points if the wifi is accessible throughout the hostel, it lends to more private Skype conversations and peaceful writing.

7. Free brekkie.

Again, budget-conscious travelers need some incentive to stay at a hostel. Free breakfast, even if it is just toast and jam, or cereal and coffee/tea can help keep the wallet fatter. Hostels, take note: not many of you offer fruit, and damn it, I would LOVE me a banana or orange. Or a hard-boiled egg.

8. Free drinks.

Even if it is only one drink when you check-in, free drinks are great to spark up an evening in the hostel, encourage people to interact and a nice way of saying “thank you for your business.” Bars are good to have, too. Activities, such as quizzes or games, also adds nicely to the mix.

9. Tours.

It is a hassle to book tours. Hostels that offer low-cost tours (or just tours in general) score more points with me. Traveling isn’t always easy, so if a hostel has something already on the books and all you need to do is sign-up, then I’m in.

10. Laundry.

Free laundry is even better, but I will settle for cheap laundry service any day. It beats having to haul clothes to the laundromat or re-wear stuff that has no business being worn again.

11. Friendly staff.

Staff can make or break a hostel. The friendlier and more helpful the staff is, the better. Not being fluent in many languages makes it difficult to phone a car hire service or book a stay at another hostel. Staff that can help do this make a world of difference.

12. Deals.

I am partial to the offer of staying extra nights at a discount or for free. In Brasov, I didn’t need to stay five nights, but the fifth was free, which was cheaper than leaving, so why not?

13. Location.

Please, don’t tell me to take one metro, one bus and five trams to get to your hostel. I won’t. Location is key — the closer to the center of town and public transportation, the better. As a rule, if it takes me more than 15 minutes to get to where the action is, I won’t stay there. Unless I want peace and quiet, but that’s a different story.

Special thanks to Kismet Dao Hostel in Brasov, Romania to having every one of these things.

Related note: For more on hostels, head over to Michael Hodon’s site, GoSeeWrite, and read his tips for hostel owners.

What else makes a hostel superfly? Share your comments below!

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