“Black Out” in Brasov

It was a rainy Saturday afternoon in Brasov. Benjamin, Tommy and I went into square with the intention to buy wood for an afternoon barbecue (wood was a bus ride away), but ended up just eating our way through the city.

We sat together, enjoying our “fast food” sandwiches when we saw the neon sign blinking in a window above our heads: “Legal Weed.”

We looked at each other.

Whaaaaaaat??

We needed to investigate further.

The three of us went upstairs to the “spice shop” to ask questions.

No, weed was not legal. BUT, this … spice concoction … this was legal.

We looked at each other again.

“Should we try it?” I asked.

“It is 50 lei,” the clerk informed us.

Again, an exchange of looks.

Really? Were we going to do this?

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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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D vs Budapest: The down and dirty recap


I departed Madrid with such apprehension. I wanted to stay, but knew it was time to head out and keep traveling.

Budapest was the destination, but I wasn’t too excited, despite the marvelous things I have heard about it. I loved being with my new friends, and heading to Budapest meant a departure from my comfort zone.

Perhaps my frame of mind upon leaving set me up for the numerous bouts I had with the city, or maybe it was just time for me to practice keeping my wits about me.

Either way, Budapest and I went mano y mano and in the end, well, I think it is safe to say I didn’t go down without a fight.

Round 1

I got off the bus and headed to the train to get to the city. Of course, I speak the equivalent of nothing in Hungarian, so when I handed the woman at the ticket counter 1,000 FTs, she told me it wasn’t enough for the train.

I handed her more. Then, I looked at the sign. Clearly, the ticket I wanted was marked as 320, not 1,000.

“Wait,” I stammered. “I gave you 1,000.”

“Yes,” she said.

“Don’t I get change?”

“No.”

I didn’t know how to argue in Hungarian, so I gave in.

Budapest: 1    D: 0

Round 2

After successfully navigating my way to Unity Hostel in Pest, I rang the door bell, thankful to be putting down my pack and looking forward to getting some food.

I buzzed. And buzzed. And buzzed.

No answer.

So, I buzzed a different number.

“Hello,” said the voice … in Hungarian.

“Hi, hostel?” I asked.

“No.”

“Let me in?”

“No.” Click.

Well, shit.

I pulled out my cell and called. A Spanish recording came on, explaining something to me (guessing I couldn’t make calls).

I spun around, looking at the buildings around me, seeing if I could just yell up to someone in the hostel to let me in.

Nothing.

Fight or flight, right?

I decided to fight. I walked up to a girl checking her messages on her phone and explained to her my situation and asked if I could use her phone.

I dialed the hostel.

No answer.

Panic began to creep into my mind. My heart began to race.

Shit. I have no place to sleep, no map of the city.

Budapest: 2    D: 0

Round 3

“Do you know where I might be able to find a hostel?” I asked the girl.

“Yes,” she said, beckoning me to follow her down another street. “Go down there to the second main street and there is one across from the post office. You will see a sign.”

Thank god.

After about 25 minutes of wandering through one of Buda’s main streets, I saw the sign for the hostel.

I buzzed.

They let me in.

“Hi,” I said, saying a silent prayer for a room. “I don’t have a reservation.”

“That’s OK,” said the receptionist, sitting down in her chair. “How many nights would you like?”

Budapest: 2    D: 1

Round 4

At Interflat Youth Hostel I met two girls from America and we headed for food. The three of us craved pizza so we did what any Americans craving pizza would do, headed to the nearest Pizza Hut (shhhh, no judging).

Pizza was mouthwateringly perfect.

We got the bill.

Really?

The server had added a 25 percent gratuity.

Budapest: 3    D: 1

Round 5

I hadn’t gone out for a few days and my inner conversations were growing stale. I tried to convince a girl in my dorm to come out with me, but she wanted to stay in.

A bar, Instant, was recommended to me by the hostel, so I decided to take a walk on over there for a drink.

I walked in and it was such a cool bar. A packed, cool bar.

There were no seats, so I did a lap through and decided I wasn’t in the mood to stand in a corner, eyeing people and conversations jealously.

So, I proceeded to another bar, one less crowded and a lot less cool, and grabbed a beer. Then, I headed back to my room to catch up on some writing.

Draw

Round 6

I had been in Budapest two nights and had met no one and decided a change of scenery was necessary.

I made a reservation and headed over to Back Pack, a hostel in Buda packed with hippie flavor and general awesomeness (and recommended by Lonely Planet).

It was a rainy and cold day in Budapest and by the time I arrived to Back Pack, my jeans were soaked through and I was chilled to the bone.

But, I had made it. I was immediately let in to the hostel and given a room with a comfortable bed, unlike the last hostel where I was oh-so Princess and the Pea and could feel every spring in the mattress.

To add to the glee, I hadn’t had to validate either of my travel tickets, so I rode for free on the tram and bus.

Budapest: 3    D:2

Round 7

The rain continued on Monday, but I was determined not to let the water drown out my day.

I stood outside of the hostel, OAR (Of a Revolution) playing on my iPod, and began walking down the stairs.

Then, my foot was slipping and my ass was connecting with the slick stairs and I was sliding down to the bottom.

Pain shot through my entire back and my arm. Tears filled my eyes.

For the first time during my trip, I wanted to go home. To my parents. To sit with my mom and have a good cry.

Budapest: 4     D: 2

Round 8

I stood up, fighting back the urge to burst into hysterics. Then, I looked behind me. Was anyone rushing to make sure I was OK?

NO.

I looked at my back. Soaked. I looked at my arm. Scratched. I looked inside of myself. Bruised, but manageable.

I brushed the dirt off of me, sucked in some fresh Budapest air and headed out the front gate and into the city to explore.

Budapest: 4    D: 3

Round 9

At that point, I decided there was a chance Budapest was going to kick my ass. It was time to get traveling, so I headed to a ticket office to purchase a bus ticket to Brasov, Romania.

“I’m sorry,” the woman said, cautiously looking at me and the frustration that was spreading over my face. “There are no buses to Brasov this week.”

“What about a train?”

“I can call and see how much it is,” she offered, and I graciously accepted.

After some back and forth, she gave me directions to another office to go and purchase a train ticket.

An hour later, and a little wetter (it was still raining in Budapest), I held in my hand a second class reserved seat to Brasov, leaving the following evening.

That night, I finally met some people in my hostel, Scott and Heidi, a fabulous Aussie/Kiwi couple and we enjoyed some drinks together.

Finally. My first good night in Budapest was also my last night.

The next night, I boarded my overnight train for Romania for some time out of Schengen Europe. Just in time to start crazy new adventures in Brasov …

Budapest: 4     D: 4

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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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