Sunday, April 3, 2016

One last week later

Today, I am sitting in a coffee Tempe, Arizona. I've been home for a week now, but I hate the idea of not documenting in the blog world my last amazing day in Romania. So even though this is one week removed, I'm going to do my best. :)

I got up early that Friday morning and cleaned and packed, then headed downtown one last time. My plan was to go read at my favorite Bucharest coffee shop (ok, the only one I tried). It was still cold and a little bit rainy, but I loved how confident I felt about getting downtown, and I was getting pretty used to the weather. I stopped at a little pretzel stand I'd been to once before, and got my favorite apple-filled pretzel for 1 leu (about 25 cents, a totally cheap and delicious breakfast). Then I walked to Origo...only to find no empty tables. So sad. So I went for a walk around the block, hoping a table would open up by the time I got back...but no such luck. I got my latte to-go (they still did beautiful latte art that I hated to cover up with a lid), and made my way back to the subway, only to realize I'd lost my subway pass and had to buy a new one to get back to the apartment. All in all, not the most successful morning, but I was still pretty cheerful.

I had prayed that the rain would let up by noonish. I had to check out of my apartment by noon, and was going to go from there to my friend Adoriana's apartment, which was a 30-minute walk or 10-minute drive away. Taxi drivers really don't like short drives, so I was going to probably have to pay someone extra to do it (plus taxi drivers are notoriously dishonest in this city) so I'd prayed the rain would stop...and it did! I had a mostly-pleasant walk (after being yelled at by a shop owner for throwing my trash in their trash bin), and arrived safely at Adoriana's flat. I got to meet her husband Bogdan and their son Paul, and she fed me a delicious lunch (complete with Romanian soup! I miss it so much!). While her husband worked (he owns a photography business) and her son napped, I walked down the street to the mall. I'd avoided American chains the entire trip, but I was actually pretty happy to sit in their really nice Starbucks in their really nice mall on a still-chilly day and read to my heart's content. Adoriana met me a couple hours later with Paul, and we walked back together after watching Paul explore a fun little play area for awhile.

with Paul and Adoriana
My evening in their home was truly one of the highlights of my trip. After two weeks of traveling alone, I was in a home again, with sweet believers, enjoying fellowship and a home-cooked meal. Belonging to the body of Christ is truly amazing – how sweet and easy it was to have conversations with these friends, and what a joy to see God's kindness toward me in their hospitality and friendship. I was filled with so many emotions – it is hard to love people and know that in just a few hours you'll be separated by thousands of miles – and so thankful that my original plan of hanging out at the airport for the evening was not God's plan for my night. I felt safe and loved and overwhelmingly grateful.

After purposely dumping a bowl
of popcorn on the carpet, Paul got
to help Bogdan vacuum :)
Bogdan helped call me a cab in advance, to come pick me up at 2:45 Saturday morning. He and Ado both got up with me at 2:30 to say goodbye, and Bogdan walked me out to the curb and made sure the cab driver was doing what he was supposed to do :) I cried a bit on that cab ride – not the first or last time I've cried about leaving Romania behind.

The rest is pretty much history – a flight to Amsterdam, then to Seattle, then to Phoenix. I'm horrible at sleeping on planes, so I think maybe I got about 2 hours of sleep in 24 hours of traveling, but everything went smoothly and for that I am thankful. My sweet parents met me at the airport, and since then my full-time job has been adjusting to “normal” life back home (oh yeah, and working at my full-time job, and my part-time job :) )
My heart wasn't happy at the
airport, but my finally-free
feet sure were!  Flip-flops!

I have so much more to say. I feel like much of this blog has just been a chronological outline of my trip's events and not much about the many things going on in my heart. Here is one thing I wrote – wasn't sure if I'd publish it here but looks like I will. I wrote this while sitting in the Starbucks that final afternoon. I'd prayed earlier that week that I would see blue sky before leaving Bucharest. It felt like a silly thing to pray, but I just wanted to see with my own eyes that the city wasn't always gloomy, and I had seen God answer prayer after prayer all month and felt confident that He would do so again, just because He is kind. And answer it he did! When I saw blue sky out of the Starbucks window, I wrote this:

(side note, I use the word “pocaitii” toward the end. This is the Romanian word for “repenters” and is a label for evangelical believers there  that is meant to be derogatory but that they've adopted as their own. I could write an entire additional entry about this word alone...maybe another day)

“Keep tearing up a bit, I sure will miss this place. I thought about adjusting to life at home once I get back, but I didn't give much thought to the actual leaving, the pain of it. And there's a beautiful patch of blue sky out this Starbucks window that reminds me of a God who answers prayers, even seemingly silly ones, and the really big ones, and who plants hopes and dreams in our hearts and has us wait and then sometimes fulfills them. And sweet Ado and Bogdan are at home in their humble flat and hardly know me but are welcoming me so very kindly, and this too is evidence of a kind God who dwells within them. It is strange to feel simultaneously sad and weary and peaceful and joyful and excited and nervous. And I love this place, not in the naïve way that I think I loved it before, but in the way you love someone you've actually gotten to know. This is not an easy place, and I don't understand it still, not completely. But there are so many dear ones here, and they are dearer to my Lord than they are to me, and He has watched this country suffer and fight and lose and win and grown and change, and I only see in snapshots, both literally and figuratively. And I will go home, and will love the people and the place God has given me there, and maybe I will come back again. And there will be a day when God brings all His ransomed ones, pocaitii all of us, home for good. And there will be none of the strangeness left, and all of the joys.”

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Palaces, Parks, and Puddles

This is probably my last blog of the trip! So crazy!  Tonight is my last night in my Bucharest apartment, and tomorrow night I will crash for a few hours at my friend Adoriana's apartment before heading to the airport really early (like 3am or so) to catch my first of 3 flights.  Pressure's on to sleep well tonight :)

Today was another fun day of exploring this city.  And now of course I want to come back in nicer weather and explore it properly!  But I feel like I did a great job, all things considered.

one of the streets in old town.  I'd have taken
 better and more pictures if it wasn't raining!
I started my day at Origo again, and the same baristas were there and were just as friendly and the coffee was just as fantastic.  I had set a different exploration route today, and my first priority was to explore Old Town just a little more.  By the end of the day, I actually explored it several different times! Old Town is a relatively small area of town that was not demolished to make way for Communist projects, so it retained some of it's quaint old European character.  I like it a lot.

I think our guide said yesterday that this is the oldest church
in Bucharest
  From there, I tried to find the Jewish history museum.  Tried, with no success.  I found the synagogue that at one time hosted the museum, and found a sign in Romanian that seems to talk about that, but the museum itself was not to be found. 
window of the synagogue
 I was satisfied with my effort, though, and headed toward my next stop: the "House of the People" or "Palace of the Parliament."  This monstrous building (2nd largest administrative building in the world, heaviest building in the world, all sorts of other superlatives...) was masterminded by communist dictator Ceausescu, and cost insane amounts of money and resources and people to build, while the people of Romania themselves had not enough food, heat, or electricity. I could tell you much more but you should come and tour it yourselves (or listen to me blab on about it in person sometime :) )  I was happy to catch a paid tour, but decided not to pay to take pictures. This was actually kind of a relief - no pressure to take pictures so I just got to take it all in. It really is a breathtaking place on the inside (but I guess you have to take my word for it) , and one of the reasons it is called the People's House is that everything inside was Romanian-made (except for some mahogany panels in one room that were a gift to Ceausescu from a foreign leader).  Pretty impressive.
beautiful mosaic along Bulevardul
 Unirii, on the way to the Palace

view from the front

view from the east side, taken from nearby Izvor Park
Ok, so this isn't the Palace.  This is just a super cool playground,
also at Izvor Park.

the only picture I took in the palace.  I had to exchange my passport
for this badge, so it was pretty important (Don't worry, we traded
back at the end :) )

After that I headed north a bit to catch part of Parcul Herastrau and Romania's own Arc de Triumf - smaller than the one in Paris, but still impressive (Sorry, Vasi, I didn't make it to Parcul Carol, I decided I wanted to see the Arc more than the mausoleum :) ).  Being that it was still cold and rainy, I was one of the only people in this park too, but I do remember being in this park in early May in 2007 and it being quite lovely.  Today it was a bit dreary but still pretty.

I found a fun place to eat a late lunch/early dinner, back in old town at a place called "La Mama."  I chose it because of the soup menu - I seriously love Romanian soup! This time I had a sour soup with chicken and garlic - so good!  It came with bread (oh yeah, I love Romanian bread too!) and I ordered fries to go with it and a mint lemonade that was amazing and served in a fancy mini-pitcher with a straw.  I will also miss Romanian lemonade :) I wandered around a bit after eating, but puddle-jumping was getting a little old and my feet were getting a little tired, and it was going to be dark soon anyway. 
I actually went out of my way today,
in the rain, to take a picture of this
 sign I saw yesterday.  Instead of a
sign saying to keep off the grass,
 this happy sign says being
on the grass is allowed!

Another successful subway ride back, and here I am.  I'm in a funky mood right now - excited to be home and to see family and friends and clients and live in a world where I'm not a cultural outsider, nervous about all the travel that needs to happen between now and then, and sad to leave this amazing place.  Every time I leave Romania, I am so aware that there is a chance I won't return, and it breaks my heart each time.  This time is no exception.  But my faithful God is in control, and He is as good in Tempe as He is here, and He is faithful to His people here at the exact same time He is faithful to His people in Arizona.  He's pretty amazing.  This trip has been amazing.  Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Bucharest, rain or shine

 I'm currently cuddled up in a blanket in my cozy apartment, thawing out from a cold but wonderful day.
I rode the subway into central Bucharest with my friend Adoriana this morning.  As soon as we were underground, I got excited.  I remembered that I really enjoy subways, was glad to have her with me to navigate the first ride, and everything was clean and easy to understand.  We got into town, she headed to an appointment, and I headed to Origo coffee shop, which I'd discovered online months ago and was so excited to try.
Origo was everything I hoped for and more.  The baristas were really friendly, seemed to really know their coffee, and I had a hot latte that was fantastic.  As I got out my Bible and journal, I couldn't help but think about how not so long ago, reading a Bible in public in this city could have been grounds for imprisonment or worse.  A sobering thought that made me extra thankful as I read God's word!
From Origo, I wandered toward a nearby park.  On the way, I stopped at a bookstore (I've finished most of the books I brought on this trip), and bought 4 new books!  Then I had to get out before I picked out any more - books are, after all, a bit of a heavy item to add to my already heavy belongings for the long trip home.  But a coffee shop and a cozy bookstore in one morning made for a really happy Krista!
I made it to the park - Parcul Cismigiu - and it was lovely, kind of like a mini Central park with ponds and hills and cool trees and pretty flowers. It had stopped raining for a little bit, and even though it was still cold and wet, I had so much fun exploring and taking way too many pictures.  I wandered around the park for a long time. (I think I gave the security guards something to do, since the park was otherwise mostly empty.  They kept watching me, probably because I made a ridiculously good target - a single American girl with her camera in a mostly-empty city park). 

my fancy lunch
From there, I literally just wandered.  I walked in directions I thought would be interesting, casually watched for somewhere to eat, and ended up just getting colder and colder as it started to rain again.  I found a little restaurant, and ordered a chef's special - chicken rolls with prosciutto and asparagus and gorgonzola and sour cream.  I was proud of myself for eating something interesting :-)  Then I followed Adoriana's tip to another bookstore.  This one was 5 stories tall, right in the heart of old town Bucharest, and so fantastic.  I might go back tomorrow.

the beautiful bookstore
From there, I headed to Piata Unirii for another free guided walking tour like I did in Brasov.  I wasn't sure anyone else would show - the weather was only getting worse, it was probably about 45 degrees and raining pretty steadily.  But there were like 40 of us!  Our guide, Stefan, was great, and tried to find us sheltered spaces to explain things: "See that church on the right?  Great, we are going to talk about it when we get out of the rain."  It really is a fascinating city - I'm falling in love with it!  It's not my first time exploring it, but I am way less overwhelmed by it than I was in 2007 (even though I had friends showing me around in 2007!)  And although the effects of communism on the city are horribly sad, it does make for some interesting contrasts: wide boulevards surrounded by plain white buildings, then just a block away old cobblestone streets full of character and history.  Stefan did a good job of making the tour mostly chronological, starting with the old city and ending with some of the communist landmarks and post-communist developments.  The rain did not let up (there was water flowing down many of the streets by the end of our tour), and I was super excited to get warm  and dry again, but I'm still so glad I did the tour.  And now I know what I want to see more of tomorrow if I can.  And to round out this pretty-much-perfect day, I took the subway home, easily navigating a couple different lines and figuring out my way back to the apartment without once doing the obvious-tourist-looking-at-a-map routine. 
I took lots of random building pics, I'll spare you
from most of them
part of our tour group.  Stefan has the red umbrella

a rainy-day view of part of Piata Unirii, and the boulevard that
communist dictator Ceaucescu had built so that it would be one meter
wider than the previous widest street in Europe

A fascinating little monastery that also houses artifacts
 from local churches destroyed during communism
Tomorrow I am going easy on myself - I will do whatever the weather permits :)  I definitely want to explore some more, but also love the idea of staying warm.  And now I have some wonderful books to read, so staying cozy sounds even more appealing!
Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Constanta to Bucharest

Yes, second blog in one day, technically.  But I'll try to keep it relatively brief :)

Today turned out quite nicely. My host's niece came to pick up the keys from me, and she called a cab, so I didn't have to track one down.  He got me safely to the station, and it was my most stress-free train ride yet! The set up inside of this train was perfect, and I could actually keep my suitcase next to me instead of hoisting it up somewhere.  I shared my little area with two girls who were giggling about things on their phones most of the way there, but there were also three extra seats, and we could all spread out a bit.  I had my feet up part of the way, took a nap, read about was really relaxing!  There was also a really nice window you could stand at, and I woke from my nap just in time to snap a couple more shots of the Danube as we crossed back over it.

Arriving in Bucharest wasn't as nice.  It was cold and rainy, and I had to wait in the train station a bit since there wouldn't be anyone at the apartment until 4.  I finally went to catch a cab, but the driver said the address wasn't coming up as valid in his GPS.  We headed to something close to the address while I contacted my host.  My host ended up calling the driver himself to give him directions.  When we got here, I was so excited to have found the right building (M22 instead of M20) that I didn't realize I'd walked into the wrong address number (5 instead of 3).  It took a bit to get things sorted (at one point I was on the 2nd floor of the building next door while the host's friend was waiting outside the other building) but I finally arrived and got settled in.

The biggest blessing in this city is that I have a friend here! I met Adoriana in 2007, when my friends and I joined up with her team from Alege Viata (a Romanian chapter of Campus Crusade/Cru).  As soon as I got here, she got in touch with me, and we met up.  She even brought me beautiful flowers for my home-away-from-home.  We walked to a nearby mall, ate dinner and caught up.  She is taking very good care of me here, and it makes the city much less scary!  It was so sweet to see her again after 9 years.  It was also a sweet blessing to not eat alone for once :)  I will plan to ride the subway with her into central Bucharest tomorrow morning, so that she can go to an appointment and I can go to a coffee shop, then we may tour the People's Palace tomorrow afternoon. 

Not many pictures at all today - I didn't even take one of Adoriana! - but here are a few :)  Goodnight!
my beautiful living room in Constanta

busy day for boats on the Danube

glad to finally make it to my apartment
in Bucharest!

In the listing for this apartment, there was beautiful green
foliage outside the window.  I was preparing myself for that
not to be the case, since it's still early spring, but look - green!

Sunny Explorations

The title of today's post reflects what happened yesterday (Monday). Because today, it is not sunny at all.  It's actually very foggy - I could see the sea when I got up...but then I couldn't!  This is my 3rd time at this coffee shop, Haute Cup, and my first time taking a direct route here and not getting lost.  Now that I realize how close it really is to my apartment, I like it even more!  Too bad it's my last morning here.

Anyway, about yesterday.  It was a gloriously sunny day, and it really made the town come alive a lot more.  I followed the little route I had worked out, and decided that this is a fascinating city after all, and that it's ok if it feel run down because it is thousands of years old. :-)  My first stop was at some ancient ruins of the original city of Tomis.  It blew me away that these were just in the middle of a city block, not protected in any way, not really labeled or anything, just sort of...there.  Anyway, they were cool.

one of many cool views from the top of the minaret
Then I kept heading south (so nice to have the sea on my left so I didn't get lost).  I decided to take a tour of a famous little mosque which was listed in my tour book.  It cost 5 lei to get in, and when I didn't have exact change handy and was digging in my bag, another tourist paid for me. So nice!  He and his small group of friends/family were the only other ones there while I was there, so I kind of tagged along with them.  The coolest part was that we got to climb to the top of the minaret and get an amazing view of the city. (I ended up seeing this group of people again randomly when I walked past the restaurant they were eating at.  I think we probably represented about 50% of the tourists exploring Constanta on this particular day. :-)

I kept up on my journey south, and came to the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, the largest Orthodox church in this city.  I couldn't figure out if I was supposed to pay something to get in,  and when I cracked the door open, there were some nuns busy with something, so I stayed outside.  There was some beautiful artwork in front, and some more ruins of the old city out in the yard, a little better protected than the ones I'd seen earlier.  There was also an interesting sign about early Christian martyrs killed here between the 2nd and 4th centuries. 
"The Ancient of Days"... I think
ruins in the churchyard, with the sea behind
with the casino in the background, and 2 American girls
 From there, I walked along the sidewalk by the sea for awhile, taking lots of pictures.  There's an old, out-of-use casino that is said to have been glorious in its day and is still one of the must-see sights in this city, so I did as expected and took some pictures there.  There were a couple American girls taking pictures too - I almost asked if I could be their friend :-)  It's crazy how few Americans I've seen on this whole trip.  I walked the touristy harbor area, where maybe 1/3 of the restaurants were open, but I couldn't be confident that I would find good food there that wasn't seafood, so I kept walking til I got closer to my apartment.  I went to a restaurant that I'd noticed before, that overlooks the ocean (instead of just the harbor), and it was beautiful.  I was tired and warm from all the walking, and I enjoyed pizza (without any seafood in it!) and a frozen lemonade, with my sweater off, in the sunshine!  It gave me a little glimpse of how amazing this place must be in warmer weather!

I never get tired of taking panoramic pictures

Lunch.  With maybe the prettiest non-alcoholic
drink I've ever had

I then finally walked down to the beach itself.  I had hoped to get my toes wet, but I just couldn't do it.  It was windy and cold, and the walk back to my apartment wouldn't be too fun with sandy, wet feet.  So instead of my usual toes-in-the-water pic, I got a fingers-in-the-water picture instead :-)
so many shells!

touching the Black Sea!
My afternoon and evening were pretty low-key.  I was a little anxious because my internet still wasn't working, and I couldn't get a needed message from my host about today's check-out, and I don't know where to catch my taxi today to the train station, and I was almost out of my Romanian cash.  In other cities, there have been exchange places everywhere I look, but I hadn't seen a single one here, and I had a moment of panic wondering what to do if I ran out of cash.Thankfully, even without internet, I found an exchange place on a map using GPS, hoped it was legit, and walked in that direction.  I was so relieved to find it!

I wasn't really hungry after my big lunch, so went home for the evening after that.  Thankfully, my dad was able to check my email from home and text me some needed info, and I'm starting to get used to not having internet at the apartment...but was really excited to re-connect with the world here at the coffee shop this morning! Today, I head to Bucharest and would appreciate prayers as I navigate a hectic city.  I won't be able to just walk everywhere once I get there so will actually have to figure out how the subway works, and taxis are known for being corrupt there too.  I'm hoping to connect with a friend once I get there though.  It's supposed to be rainy pretty much the whole time I'm there, so I'm already looking up "indoor activities in Bucharest" without much luck :)

I feel as if this post may be a bit on the long side, probably because I was going through communication withdrawals these past 24 hours :-)  Thanks for reading!

Monday, March 21, 2016

A Day of Rest...sort of

Today, I've returned to a coffee shop called Haute Cup, that I came to yesterday.  I considered trying someplace else, but this place has many wonderful things, including brightly colored décor, iced coffee, kind and handsome baristas :), and the thing that shocks me most: they bring a cup of water to my table along with my coffee.  This is huge!  Water is pretty much never free here and is actually pretty expensive (relatively speaking), and is never brought without asking.  I am amazed my body is still  functioning with how little water I've had on this trip...but this place helps me!

I'm liking Constanta, mostly.  It's weird because it's a huge vacation destination for people (in the summertime though) but there are many parts that are totally run down.  The Black Sea is fantastically beautiful, but the town itself, at least the parts I've seen so far, hasn't wowed me nearly as much as the others I've been to.  I've also realized that I'm currently further away from home than I've ever been in my life!  A strange thing to think about.  But anyway, here's what I've been up to:

beginnings of the sunrise from my window
Yesterday morning was wonderful.  I got up early and watched the sun rise over the sea, then headed out for the morning.  The weather was much improved from the night before, and I came to Haute Cup and fell in love with it, then journeyed on to a nearby church. 

sunrise, continued

Definitely coffee time!

Haute Cup
 I'd found this church randomly online - I just looked up the most walkable Baptist church - but truly, the Lord was so kind in leading me there.  Funny thing is, most churches start with singing, and I've been told that when I sing in Romanian I sound Romanian, so I get this sweet experience of almost blending in for a little while. :)  The service was 2.5 hours long - which is normal here - and really great.  I'm so impacted by the way that people pray in Romanian churches.  It is a huge part of the service, and instead of just 1 person praying from up front, people are invited to pray aloud from the congregation.  At one point in yesterday's service, the pastor said that we were going to split into smaller groups to pray for some of the health needs in the church.  I had to blow my cover and tell the ladies in my group that I am not Romanian...but it was sweet because we had a conversation about it, entirely in Romanian, in which one of the ladies said, "It's ok, you can pray in English.  God understands."  It was sweet to pray with them.  Another highlight of the service was singing "Before the Throne" in Romanian, which is probably my overall favorite worship song in English.  I had prayed before the service that I would truly be able to worship there, and God totally answered that prayer.  I had another conversation with the lady next to me on my way out, still in Romanian, and was so glad to have been able to worship alongside those sweet people and not have them need to cater to my English.

Bulevardul Tomis, kind of a restaurant row
After church, I changed and went to find lunch.  I got a shawarma plate at a fast food place, then tried to do a little bit of sightseeing.  It started to get cold again though, and windy, so I did sort of a speedy version.  It's a super old city - the oldest continuously inhabited city in Romania, said to have been founded in 600 BC as the city of Tomis.  So lots of fascinating things to see...but I was cold and went back to my apartment after taking some pictures.  I journeyed out again for dinner at a traditional Romanian place I'd noticed earlier, and got what is now my favorite soup here, which I was introduced to in Cluj - bean and smoked meat (what kind of meat?  No idea!  Who am I??).  I then stopped at a little market and bought water, Fanta, and some candy, and headed back to relax some more at home with these refreshments in hand.  I live-streamed my home church service, watched tv a bit (lots of coverage about Obama's trip to Cuba!) and read some.  The internet stopped working, which made me feel pretty isolated,  but it was otherwise a good night.

Ancient grave marker from the 3rd century

pretty shot of Piata Ovidiu, the square that had seemed spooky
the night before :)

Ok, so it's still a little spooky.  This is a stray dog staring at me
from the 2nd floor of an abandoned building
one of many pics I took of the sea
love the colors in this one

there's a sea behind me, but you can't really tell

fun traditional décor at my dinner place, complete with
a well-dressed mannequin.

Today is supposed to be warmer (56 degrees!) and totally sunny.  I have a little exploration route worked out that I am pretty excited about.  According to the weather app, it should be at its warmest at 3:30 this afternoon, so I brought some flip flops along in my backpack and am really hoping to dip my toes in the sea at about that time :-)  Time will tell!