Sinia, Bucharest and the Emergency Room

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On my last day in Brasov, I had a couple recommendations to see a small town on my way to Bucharest called Sinia.  The attraction there was an old monastery and some really beautiful mountain scenery.  It was literally on the way, and I enjoyed seeing more of the country before heading on to Bucharest.  Sinia was only an hour Southwest of Brasov by train, and the monastery was kind of cool.  It was something like 600 years old, but for me, the scenery was the best part of Sinia.

IMG_2539Inside the monastery.IMG_2542What I found hilarious was that there was a huge casino right next to the monastery.IMG_2548The guy from the Peace Corp I met in my hostel joined me to checkout the town.  After the monastery, we spent the next couple hours trying to get to the top of one of the nearby mountains.  We didn’t have time to hike up, and went looking for the gondola.  We could clearly see the cables (below) and the cars, but could not find the stupid spot where you board the gondola.  Kind of lame because it would have been an incredible view

IMG_2552In the end, we failed, So Sinia was the fourth small town I got to see in Romania.  I felt it was worth the day trip.  Not worth an overnight stay, but definitely a good stop on my way to Bucharest.  I hopped on a train to the capital late in the day, so it was another after dark arrival.  I’ll admit, by the time I reached Bucharest, I was ready to be done with Romania.  I had seen some cool castles, experienced some good outdoor scenery, done a bit of hiking, and had some decent hostel stays.  But I wanted to get back into Western Europe.  It was getting cold, and my trip doesn’t end with Europe.  I have to keep moving to stay on track with my overall plan for the year.  I had stayed longer in Brasov than I thought, and since I had booked a flight already, I only had two nights in Bucharest before flying to Vienna.

I had been given a great recommendation from someone in Brasov to stay at the Antique Hostel.  It was about a 30 minute walk from the train station.  The hostel turned out to be really small and was essentially a home that had been turned into a hostel.  It was run by the owners, a husband and wife in their early 30’s.  One of the owners, Andreea, gave me the warmest welcome I’ve ever had at a hostel.  She gave me a tour of the house, and offered me a cup of tea and a dessert.  We chatted for a bit about my travels and the places I had been to in Romania.  Soon after, her husband Bogdan came in and greeted me.  This place was perfect.  I started to feel bad for only staying two nights.  Little did I know that in just a couple hours, I would find myself in a Romanian emergency room and extending my stay.  Here’s the full story…

So I was watching TV upstairs around 11:00 PM and felt tired from a day of travel.  As I was coming down the spiral staircase my foot slipped, and I tried to catch myself.  After a few steps, I caught myself briefly, but then completely lost control again and fell down the remaining stairs.  I more or less landed on my butt and back.  I was able to stand at first, and got up quickly. I felt really dumb, and at first thought I just hit my side up against the stairs kind of hard.  However, I soon felt very lightheaded, so I went back to my room and sat on the bed.  I guess I passed out, because when I woke up, I was face down on the white tile floor looking at a pool of blood about five to six inches in diameter.  I was extrememly confused.  I didn’t know what was going on, and couldn’t figure out why I was bleeding.  I remembered falling, but didn’t recall hitting my head.  I stumbled into the kitchen, and Andreea saw me.  She had this really worried look on her face and asked what happened.  I said I fell, but wasn’t sure why I was bleeding.  I asked if she could see where the blood was coming from, and she couldn’t tell right away I guess because one side of my head had blood streaming down it. She had me sit down, and then got me some gauze to hold up to my head.  Bogdan told me that I had a cut above my eye and I asked to see a mirror.

When they showed me the mirror, I saw the damage.  I had a good size gash above my left eye, too big to just bandage up and call it a night.  I needed stiches.  I couldn’t imagine how I hit my head.  I figured when I was twisting around down the stairs I must of wacked my head on the railing.  Bogdan told me he called a taxi, and we would go to the hospital immediately.

I was actually pretty calm, but I had a million things going through my head.  What the hell does a Romanian emergency room look like?  How would the treatment be, and how would I pay for it?  What’s the healthcare system going to do with an American who’s just been in a really stupid accident?  I had enough sense to grab my cash and cards before leaving the hostel with Bogdan.  I was prepared to just give them my credit card and tell them to do whatever they needed to help me.

The taxi arrived pretty quickly, and Bogdan and I went to the ER.  We went up to the inpatient window and Bogdan told them what had happened.  There’s nothing like having a huge head wound and blood streaming down your face to grab people’s attention.  I felt like everyone was starring at me, however, the guy at the window appeared to be more bothered than willing to help.  However, within a few minutes, I was allowed into the ER and given a bed.  It wasn’t really that much different from emergency rooms in the US that I’ve seen.  Everyone can see everyone else.  There’s a mix of doctors, nurses, EMT’s, older patients with breathing problems and chest pains, and younger ones who’ve been in accidents.  Most of the younger nurses and doctors spoke enough English to speak to me.  Everyone kept asking me what had happened.  I just kept repeating myself in the hope they wouldn’t think something suspicious was going on and call the police.  I was completely sober, but I imagine everyone that I was either drunk or had been in a fight.  I told them I thought my ring finger on my right hand might be broken as well.  It was in a lot of pain, and I coudn’t move it at all.  It wasn’t long, and they brought someone with a wheelchair and wheeled me down a hall to a giant x-ray machine.  The technician didn’t speak English and was a little frustrated getting me to follow her directions and position me in the correct spot for the machine to work.  They x-rayed my head and right hand and then I was wheeled back to my bed in the ER.

I’m not sure if it was my English or my head wound, but I felt like a lot of the ER staff had their eyes on me most of the night.  A nurse who spoke English began filling out some forms and asking me questions.  “How tall are you?”  I smiled and said, “5 foot 7”, knowing full well height here is measured in centimeters.  I wasn’t up for doing the math, and she said it was fine, they would convert it.  “How much do you weigh?”  Ha, another measurement we Americans refuse to cave on to the rest of the world.  “150… pounds”, I said.  Another smile from the nursing staff.  Another conversion needed.  I asked jokingly, “Don’t you get Americans in here?”.  More smiles and snorts.  “No” was the response.  “What about other foreigners?”, I asked honestly.  “No”.  The nurse then continued to check me out.  She was concerned I might have internal injuries and began pressing on my abdomen.  She squeezed my legs and arms, and applied pressure on my hips.  I felt no pain, and since I had walked into the ER, I felt like everything else was fine.  I was in a bit of shock, though, so was a bit worried I wasn’t feeling some other more serious injury.  After another hour or so, a doctor showed up who I’m guessing was the closest thing to a plastic surgeon.  His English was decent, and he communicated as best he could what he was doing exactly.  He then cleaned out my wound with some warm fluid that I’m guessing was hydrogen peroxide based on the smell.  Next, the area of my trauma was numbed and that was really the only painful part.  After waiting for a couple minutes, he sutured my wound with five stiches.  I was bandaged up, then told I would need to come back in seven days.

Shit, I was supposed to be in Vienna in two days.  So here’s my dilemma.  I could just fly to Vienna as planned in a couple days, find my way to a hospital, tell them my story and hope it all works out.  The thing is, I felt really banged up.  In addition to my head injury, I had very limited use of my right hand.  I also stubbed a toe on my right foot bad enough that it bothered me when I walked.  I really was in no mood to travel at that point.  I would likely just stay in bed at the hostel in Vienna.  The idea of staying at some big box hostel trying to recover wasn’t exciting either.  Vienna is really expensive compared to Romania, and it wouldn’t make sense to just go there and do nothing.  The hostel in Romania was dirt cheap and felt like a home.  I had no ill will towards Bogdan or Andreea, and they had been nothing but kind to me and helped me a ton when I was in a really bad situation.  Despite the fall, I felt safe and comfortable at the hostel.  It was more like a home, and I wasn’t up for traveling, so I decided to stay in Bucharest for the next week and resume my trip after the stiches were removed.  My flight to Vienna was non-refundable, so I just ate it and accepted the circumstances.  I booked another flight on a Romanian budget airliner to Paris for the day after my stiches would be removed, and just moved on mentally.  My plan had been to see Vienna and then Munich before going to Paris, so if I just went to Paris in one week, I’d be staying on track to complete Europe by the end of the year.

So I had a week to kill in Bucharest which isn’t exactly a tourist destination.  I did go out a few times, and some highlights included the old town…IMG_2572 IMG_2575I also checked out the parliament/palace building.  In terms of square footage, it’s the second largest building in the world behind the Pentagon.  It was built by Chacescu between 1984 and 1995.  It’s a testament to what one egomaniac ruler can achieve when he puts his mind to it.  Chacescu was executed during a revolution in the early 90’s, so he didn’t get to see it completed.  I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside since I didn’t want to pay extra for a “photo ticket”.  The place was pretty much a ridiculously opulent palace that is probably ten times bigger than what it needs to be.  Here are some photos from outside.IMG_2578IMG_2581

For me, the best part about Bucharest was catching up on some reading and writing in my blog.  I also looked forward to the breakfasts Andreea made every morning.  It wasn’t just for me, they made a traditional Romanian style breakfast every morning for everyone staying in the hostel.  It got us together and we had some great conversations about our travels, different cultures, and life in Romania.  The breakfast was easily the highlight of each day in Bucharest.  I know, kind of sad for me to say that, but it was true.

IMG_2587IMG_2595One more random bit of info on Romania.  Their currency is called the Romanian Lei and it’s made of plastic.  They’re really thin sheets of plastic that are almost paper like, but they have this clear window in the middle of them in various shapes.  IMG_2598So Romania was interesting and I think in the end, I don’t have regrets about going there.  I wanted my trip to be more than just seeing only hot tourist spots.  I was kind of tired of a lot of those types of cities anyway, and Romania was a good break from that.  It was the most difficult country to navigate and I felt so foreign there.  There was never any English written or spoken on the trains.  They don’t even announce the stops, so you just have to keep looking out the train window and hope you see a sign with the station name before the train pulls away.  In Romania, I saw more of the country than any other country I’ve been to on the entire trip.  I got to see Bran Castle and some great scenery.  Bogdan and Andreea were amazing too, and I’m so grateful for their help during my accident.  Bogdan stayed at the emergency room waiting for me to be released which wasn’t until 3:00 AM.  He then accompanied me back to the hospital three times… twice to get my wound cleaned and redressed every two days, then finally when I got the stiches removed.  I’ll likely have a scar for the rest of my life to remember Romania so in that way, it truly will be an unforgettable experience.  Not sure if I’ll go back, but if I do, I’ll definitely head to Bucharest to visit Bogdan and Andreea and catch up on what’s been going on and show them how well more injury has healed.

Not that I want to gross anyone out, but I did take a photo of my head wound a couple days afterwards.  I just had to see the damage again, and was curious at how well I had been stiched up.  It’s kind of nasty, but if you’re really curious, here’s the photo I took.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Romania Part 2… Brașov and Dracula’s Castle

IMG_2501My journey through Romania continued with another stop in a small scenic city.  I enjoyed the break from my usual plan of just seeing the big cities.  It was less touristy but also left me feeling uneasy at times because I often found myself in situations where I was the only foreigner around.  I welcomed the challenge and felt better for having pushed myself in that direction.

I normally do a little research on the history of each place I visit so I can include that info in my blog updates.  Unfortunately, I didn’t really do that in Romania.  Prior to arriving, my only thoughts of Romania were as follows:  One, they had a dictator named Nicolae Ceaușescu and communisum until the early 1990’s like just about everyone else in Central and Eastern Europe.  Two, they have a history of sending some pretty awesome gymnastic prodigies to the summer Olympics.  And three, the country is home to the Dracula legend.  That last one was what brought me to my next stop.

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So after a couple days in Sighisoura, I boarded a train to Brașov (BRAH-shov). I was kind of surprised the three hour train ride was only 17 Romanian lei (about $4).  When the train pulled up to the station, I saw why.  It ended up being a regional train from the communist era and very, very old and wrecked.  I thought it belonged in a museum.  It creaked like crazy and I wondered if the thing would actually make the journey.  Still, riding a train was awesome because I got to see more of Romania.  We stopped at almost every little village along the way, and it was interesting to see the people who boarded.  Smoking on the train was allowed too which was convenient since almost everyone I met in Romania smoked.  Here was one of the stops…

IMG_2384Brașov is a much bigger city than Sighisoura, and also once had a surrounding wall and was fortified.  There are some interesting sights within Brașov itself, but I’ll just jump into the highlight of the visit… Bran Castle.  It’s also commonly referred to as the Dracula Castle as it served as part of the history that inspired Bram Stoker when he wrote his famous novel Dracula.  On my second full day in the city, another American joined me for a day trip to see Bran.  We agreed to split the cost of hiring a driver to take us there which was only around $25 total for an entire day.  It’s kind of a long story, but this castle once belonged to Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler), who was a medieval Transylvanian prince who enjoyed executing people by impaling them on metal poles.  Vlad didn’t spend much time at Bran, but the castle has become part of the Dracula legend, perhaps because it’s more intact than any of his other castles.  Here are some photos from the day.

Steps up to the entrance…IMG_2466Courtyard once inside…IMG_2477

Some rooms…IMG_2467IMG_2476IMG_2468That door in the middle of the photo above is actually a secret passage that led to this narrow staircase…IMG_2474IMG_2488IMG_2489The Vlad Tepes family tree…

IMG_2486Some photos from outside…

IMG_2480IMG_2491IMG_2493IMG_2504Very awesome experience, and one of those highlights of my trip I’ll never forget.  The legend itself is really sketchy and Bram Stoker’s inspiration came from several sources.  One being Vlad Tepes and his father Vlad Dracul, but also from a queen who used to drink and lounge around in blood.  Add in the mysterious nature of Transylvania, an old castle and you get a vampire named Dracula who seduces women, drinks their blood and occassionally turns other people into vampires.

The other guy from America who accompanied me that day had an interesting story.  Philip was from Mobile, Alabama and had just finished his Peace Corp Volunteer duties in Ukraine and was taking a month to visit some spots around Europe before heading back to the States.  He taught English to high school aged kids and even had his own apartment.  Ukraine sounded like it would be an even bigger challenge to navigate than Romania, and didn’t really sound interesting to me.  I had been thinking about possibly visiting Ukraine after Romania, but I got enough info from Philip to hold me over for a while.

I spent a total of six days in Brașov after extending my original three day hostel reservation.  This allowed time for hiking to the top of one of the nearby mountains which are part of the Carpathians.  I haven’t done nearly as much outdoor exploring in Europe as I did when I was touring the US.  Although it wasn’t quite like hiking to Mt. Rainer base camp in Washington, it was still a cool day with awesome views.IMG_2517IMG_2515

Transylvania scenery is pretty bad ass.  One can see how a fairy tale like vampires could emerge from such a place as Transylvania.  There’s just this eerie ambiance.  Mist, fog, dense forests, mountains.  It all adds up to play with your mind.  On my way back down the mountain, a guy stopped me and said it was very dangerous for me to be up there hiking by myself.  Apparently there are a lot of bears that wander around.  I’m guessing the fact it was November helped keep me safe since they probably had gone into hibernation at that point.  Maybe I just got lucky because I didn’t see any that day.IMG_2524Some other random sights around the city included the usual stuff you find in Europe… old town squares, clock towers and gothic churches.  To be honest, I’m a little bored with these kind of sights at this point.IMG_2391IMG_2392IMG_2393One other random bit of info about Brașov that makes for good trivia is that the city has one of the narrowest streets in Europe.  It’s not drivable, and only wide enough for someone to walk through or possibly ride a horse.  It’s called Strada sforii or Rope Street.  It’s at least 300 years old and was used by fireman to get around.IMG_2409So that wraps up Brașov, Romania.  I stayed longer than planned, mainly so I had time to check out the city, see Bran Castle, and get in some good outdoor exercise.  I didn’t eat any traditional food which looking back was kind of lame.  I mainly lived on shwarma for my time in Brașov.  At 9 lei or about $2.50 for a giant schwarma that kept me full all day, it was hard to pass up the savings.  Romania was proving to be the cheapest country I’ve been in so far, and a good place to get back on my travel budget.  One last stop remained… the capital, Bucharest.

Sighişoara, Romania

While I was in Budapest, I was thinking of heading to Vienna next.  Lucy and Anthony (Aussies from my hostel in Budapest) kept talking about Romania and how much they enjoyed it.  I wanted to keep pushing the Central/Eastern Europe thing I had going on.  It felt less touristy and more challenging, but also very rewarding.  I also wanted to explore areas outside of major cities, and my friends kept talking about all these great small towns in Romania, so I decided to keep heading east, and bought a train ticket to Sighişoara, Romania.IMG_2312I arrived late, probably around 10 PM.  I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere, and it was raining, but luckily the hostel was almost right next to the train station.  The only problem was that the building wasn’t marked.  It was one of those travel moments where I think to myself of the crazy instances I find myself… dark rainy night in Transylvania, and lost outside.  I finally figured it out, but it took me about twenty minutes to find the hostel.  Enter Romania.IMG_2279Sighişoara (sig-ee-SHWAR-a) is in the Transylvania region and credited as one of the most preserved small medieval cities in Europe.  The city center is an old citadel with a large clock tower dating back to the 14th century.  It also features old churches, and some historic homes.  It’s a really small town, with only around 25,000 residents.  During the summer, there’s a huge medieval festival in which the town doubles in size.  However, for my visit, it was pretty quiet.  I spent two full days in town which was probably one day too many.  There’s not much to do once you’ve walked around and checked out the main sights.  Still, it’s worth a day trip just to walk around and imagine life there several hundred years ago.

Cars look so out of place.  The streets are so narrow and I can’t imagine trying to drive around there.  The city is so small and walkable too.I thought it was cool people actually live here and it’s not just something preserved as a museum.
IMG_2320IMG_2274IMG_2324Sighisoura has the distinction of being the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, who is part of the basis for the Dracula legend.  Here’s was the house he was born…

One more closer shot of the clock tower.  It still kept time, and reminded me that Romania was one hour ahead of Hungary.  Not bad for an 800 year old clock.IMG_2295I had lunch at a cafe one day and got my first look at how cheap Romania can be.  I had a large bowl of soup, cabbage rolls and two beers for about $6.  The only downside being that smoking is permitted in restaurants, and everyone seems to smoke in Romania.  IMG_2329After a couple days in Sighişoura, I was ready to go.  It was a really cool place to see, but it’s a small town and can be done in a day.  I bet it’s amazing to visit during the medieval festival held in the summer.  I didn’t meet anyone to go exploring with as the hostel I stayed in was empty except for one night where a group of Romanian high school kids filled up the place.  The hostel staff actually had to clear out an office and setup a bed for me in there so I had a place to sleep which I was incredibly grateful for.  It was only my introduction to Romania.  Things would get more interesting in the coming two weeks.