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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Daily Wanderlust: Brasov’s Town Square

Located in Transylvania, Brasov, Romania is a small city (and one of the most visited in the country). Here, people can explore the nearby mountains and local Dracula lore, rent cars and go on day trips, even wander the narrowest street in Europe, measuring a whopping four feet across.

My favorite thing to do while visiting Brasov was head to the Town Hall Square to simply look around. The square features some magnificent examples of color baroque architecture, and historic landmakrs like the Black Church, the largest gothic church in Romania.

Destinations

Daily Wanderlust: Nighttime in Cluj-Napoca, Romania

After taking the photo of men playing chess at Budapest’s train station, and heading to Brasov, Romania, for five nights of friends and fun, it was time to venture to my next stop — Cluj-Napoca.

This college town was gorgeous. One of the main squares, by day, was incredibly beautiful. But, once the sun went down, I loved the little fountain feature where tiny bursts of bubbling water would jet out from the sidewalk, lit in a variety of colors.

 

Destinations

The A-Z of D Travels ‘Round

Happy 2012!

Well, Happy 2012 a few days early. While everyone is either dragging themselves into work for the short week, or spending time on a lil’ holiday, I figured now is the time for some fun travel stories. I’m not doing a “Best of” this year, but when the opportunity to participate in the A-Z post came up, I decided it would be a fun little read (plus, a nice trip down memory lane for me).

Thanks, Nomadic Samuel and Adventurous Kate for nominating me to partake in the A- Z Travel fun.

So, without further adieu, the A – Z’s of D’s Travels ‘Round! (PS — there are five of my favorite bloggers tagged below, so at least scroll down to see other bloggers you should definitely check out in 2012).

A: Age you made your first international trip

Don’t get mad, Canada. I totally heart you, but I’m not going to count you as my first international trip since back then, I didn’t even need a passport to cross into your beautiful, clean country.

Therefore, travel back with me to 1995. It’s summertime. I’m an actress with dreams of winning an Emmy for playing the part of drama queen in a (now canceled) soap opera on ABC. Despite being located in the middle of a cornfield, my high school, Magruder if you really want to know, is 1 of 10 schools chosen to participate in the first ever high school leg of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

We receive the packets announcing this opportunity to perform in a play “over there” and I somehow manage to convince my parents it’s the best thing in the world for me to do. So, half-a-year later, I’m getting stamped into the United Kingdom. We stop at Buckingham on the way, then fly on up to Edinburgh. I grace the stage. It does not result in any acting contracts, but it feels damn good. Then, we bop back down to London for a few days before we return to Maryland.

Quick trip. Bitten by the travel bug.

B: My first Guinness in Ireland.

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where

Well, B is not easy at all. I’m going to go with Guinness. In Dublin. At St. James Gate. Yeah. I didn’t like Guinness, or Jameson, for that matter, until I landed in Dublin. Then, my German – Russian – Romanian – Polish self became a bit o’ Irish at first swig. Love.

C: The brilliant and delightful Chef Maria Jose San Ramon at Monastrell

C: Cuisine (Favorite)

I’ve had some of the most amazing food in the world in Spain, courtesy of Chef Maria Jose San Ramon of Hospes Amerigo’s Monastrell. In fact, the entire time I was a part of #blogtripf1 (thank you, Land of Valencia for the amazing opportunity to see the region!), I ate well. Nay, damn well. I even wrote a post over at Matador Network on all of the damn well eating I was doing.

Other than that, I was a sucker for the fresh fish, homemade EVOO and jugs of wine in plastic bottles made by store owners in Croatia, particularly on Solta, a little slice of island heaven on the Adriatic.

D: Destinations. Favorite. Least Favorite. Why.

I operate in life without favorites, which is weird because, as my friend Katie says, I am in love with the hyperbole. When people ask me my favorite place, I spout off a list. Which is the same list I am going to spout out now, only with brief explanations.

Madrid: Vibrant, alive city with easy transportation. If I could live anywhere in the world, Madrid or anywhere in Spain would be the top of my wish list.

Berlin: Holy crap, the amount of culture, art, eco-friendly living here, just blows me away. I love the little nooks and crannies I discovered and the history. There’s something about WWII that really intrigues me.

Sarajevo: This one makes people scratch their heads. But, for me, seeing a city that is still so scarred from ethnic cleansing and a brutal war be so alive now, just warms my heart. The people here are friendly and kind. And, I just fell in love with the city.

Split, Croatia: Split is where my life changed. And, along with its beautiful Adriatic beauty, holds a very special place in my heart.

Least favorite? Now, that’s much easier. Turkey. Not because the country isn’t awesome, because it is. But, because I had a hell of a time there. Between a hotel owner and a restaurant worker who didn’t understand “no” means “no,” to nearly dying in an attempt to paraglide, Turkey beat the crap out of me. Would I go back? Yes. However, the first experience did one big number on me.

E: Living with elephants for a week at Elephant Nature Park.

E: Event you experienced that made you say ‘Wow’

Ah, one event that made me say “wow” is difficult, to say the least. That being said, the first thing that comes to mind would be the first time I fed elephants at Elephant Nature Park, just north of Chiang Mai, Thailand. At ENP, the elephants get to live the rest of their lives without having to give rides, perform in circuses or paint (if you want to know why you shouldn’t support such outlets, click here). I spent a week with these elephants and it was magical, life-changing.

F: Train or bus? I don't know ...

F: Favorite mode of transportation

I like planes because they get me to places fast. But, I like buses and trains because I can see the world at the ground level instead of thousands of feet up in the air. Of the two — buses or trains — which do I like better? It’s a toss up. I think it’s safe to say that in Western and Central Europe, I like the trains. But, in the Balkans, where they are unreliable and late, I opt for buses.

G: Greatest feeling while traveling

There are so many feelings I experience when I travel. But, the most spellbinding is the one at the beginning — the idea that anything is possible. Travel is an unwritten story, and I have nearly full control of what I want those blank pages to be filled with.

H: Hottest place I’ve traveled to

I’ve been to a few hot places. Europe in the summer, with no air-con is dreadful. I remember dripping, dripping, dripping sweat in many Eastern European hostels. The worst was in Istanbul and later in Varna. Being in a dorm room, with no air-con, in the dead of summer in thick summer heat is absolutely horrible.

On a completely different level, Chiang Mai during the rainy season was really hot. And humid. It was impossible to walk out into the Sunday Night Market without sweat trickling down my face and soaking my clothing. I know. Attractive.

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where

The people in Thailand are so kind, so considerate, so attentive. One instance that comes to mind was my recent visit to Chiang Mai. I found a spa and went to get a foot massage. At the end of the hour, my  masseuse sat me in a stool and told me she was going to do my arms to. The reason? She had no other customers and wanted to be nice. Yup. Great service.

J: Journey that took you the longest

Oh lord! The most recent long-haul trip was the longest I have ever experienced. Thank you, United, for the awesome itinerary. It went something like this:

– Flight from Las Vegas to San Francisco: Delayed on runway one hour. Two hour flight.

– Flight from San Francisco to (surprise) Narita, Japan: Delayed one hour. Nine-and-a-half hour flight. Five hour stopover. Which was not on my itinerary.

– Flight from Narita to Bangkok: A little more than six hours. Plus, overnight at the Bangkok airport. So, another six hours.

– Flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai: One hour.

THEN, on the way back, it was less painful, but still sucky.

– Flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok: One hour.

– Flight from Bangkok to Los Angeles: Fourteen-and-a-half hours. Overnight at LAX — an additional six hours.

– Flight from Los Angeles to Las Vegas: One hour.

Yuck.

K: Hand-carved elephants at Elephant Nature Park

K: Keepsake from your travels

Because most of my travels are longer-term, I don’t really buy a lot of things. When I do, they are special and remind me of special moments. I have a bracelet with the Madrid Metro map plastered to it. I have a little carpet I bought in Chefchauen, Morocco. I have hand-carved wooden elephants done by mahouts at Elephant Nature Park. Those are probably the things that mean the most to me and conjure up detailed memories — the thoughts, the feelings, the smells, the atmosphere — of the moment I was in when I purchased each of them.

L: Let down sight. Why and where?

The biggest let down for me was Dubrovnik. Every traveler I spoke with when in Croatia sang such high praises of the city. Yes, it is absolutely magnificent, beautiful, charming … but it is also crowded and expensive. After spending a lot of time in the other cities in Croatia, Dubrovnik was my last stop on vacation and it was so built-up that by the time I got there, it wasn’t nearly what I imagined it to be.

M: The moment I fell in love with Spain.

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel

I can’t recall the first moment I fell in love, but I can recall a moment I was reminded of why I travel. After a day of traveling from Galway to Dublin to Madrid, I arrived at my hostel after dark. Filled with warnings about the city and getting my bag slashed, I arrived to the hostel after dark. My little private room had a balcony overlooking a bustling plaza. I flung open those doors and was greeted with the most magnificent view of the square, glowing with colors, pulsing with people. It was magical. And, in that moment, despite all of the negatives I heard about the city, I was enamored.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in

Kismet Dao in Brasov, Romania. It rocked. Free beers. Free nights if you stay a certain amount of time. Great staff. Chill travelers. Free breakfast. Common room with hundreds of movies to watch. A basement to party in. A backyard with a grill. Awesomeness.

O: I can't stop snapping shots of doors and windows.

O: Obsession. What are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?

Doors, windows, street lamps and clothing hanging from clothing lines. I am pretty sure I could do quite a few essays of just these images. They tell stories landscapes and normal shots of places can’t.

P: Passport stamps. How many and from where?

This passport has UK, Ireland, Spain, Romania, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Spain, Belgium, Rwanda, Belgium, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia, Germany, America, Thailand, America. I think. There might be a few more from train/car travel over borders, but I don’t remember.

Q: Bran's was a quirky let-down.

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where.

I don’t know how quirky it is, but Bran’s Castle in Romania was … interesting. They removed all of the old furniture and replaced it with antiques instead.

R: Recommended sight, event, or experience.

Pay to have a guide in Auschwitz. Take SA Guesthouse’s tour of Sarajevo. Madja’s Guest House’s tour of Mostar in Bosnia and Hercegovina. The free alternative tour in Berlin. They all rock and all are historic and fascinating.

S: Splurge. Something you have no problem forking over for while traveling.

It depends on my mood. Sometimes, it’s a good meal. Sometimes, it’s a bottle of wine. Other times, it’s just for the privilege of enjoying “free” wifi at an outdoor cafe with a cup of coffee or a Coke Light. Oh, and tours of places that really move me, like the ones I took in Bosnia.

T: Touristy thing you’ve done

The historical free tour I took in Berlin that took us to Checkpoint Charlie. Oh, and running through the Lourve so I could snap a photo of Mona Lisa but not sticking around the museum because it was so crowded with school children I thought I would pass out.

U: Unforgettable travel memory

So many! Kayaking in circles in Spain. Falling off a cliff in an attempt to paraglide in Turkey. A night of sultry flamenco in Granada. Teaching English in Spain and living with locals there. Bonding with elephants at Elephant Nature Park. I could go on and on.

V: Visas. How many of them and for where.

Turkey.

W: Wine, best glass while traveling and where.

Croatia. My last night of my trip. Sitting by myself at a restaurant enjoying homemade noodles and a view of Zadar’s harbor.

X: View of Goreme.

X: eXcellent view and from where

Coming in to Goreme at sunrise. The reds and oranges turning the fairy chimneys the same color as the sky, and hot air balloons beginning to lift off. Mesmerizing.

Y: Years spent traveling

Collectively? About one year. My longest trip was almost seven months.

Z: Zealous sports fans and where

The F-1 race in Valencia. Hands down. Oh, and every game I watched at bars during the World Cup, particularly the games in Spain with Spain playing. The passion and enthusiasm from those fans turned me into a futbol fan!

Now, the fun part! I nominate the following superb travel bloggers to share their A-Z’s:

Abby, The Jungle Princess

Lindsey, The Traveller World Guide

Erica, Overyonderlust

Bobbie Lee, Heels and Wheels

Jade, Our Oyster

30 Life Crisis

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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