Friday, April 27, 2007

Site Visit Part Two: Apuseni Mountains

Ok, so now for the rest of my site visit last weekend. After being in Cluj for two days, we went backpacking for the weekend in the Apuseni Mountains, where I will be working much of the time over the next two years. We drove a couple of hours out of Cluj to some small villages in the country where people still live much as they have for centuries. It was amazing the contrast between the modern city and the countryside. We then went even farther, hiking from a remote village out into the forest. We went to a cabana in the woods that my organization owns and keeps up as part of their ecotourism projects. The cabana is actually an old schoolhouse in a village that now is almost completely abanonded. There are no road for cars to the village now, and most of the buildings are abandoned, so it was fun to go around and see things. Amazingly, the village was still largely inhabited as recently as ten years ago. We stayed in the cabana for the weekend and hiked around, seeing a bit of the mountains. Some other members of the organization also hiked in on Saturday and we had a big campfire complete with mici, beer and palenca. It was a very good time. I could not have planned a better site visit if I had tried, and now I am anxious to move to Cluj next week and start doing more of this stuff!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Site Visit Part One: Cluj

So, this weekend I got out of Ploiesti and visited my new hometown of Cluj for the first time. I met my counterpart, saw where I will be working, and got to know the town a little bit. It was an absolutely awesome weekend, and I could not have planned it any better. This post will focus on the city of Cluj, where the first half of my visit was, then I will move on in the next post to the Apuseni Mountains, where my organization does most of its work. Anyway, on Wednesday night we took the 6 1/2 hour train ride to Cluj from Ploiesti, arriving a little after midnight. I met my new host sister (Roxana) at the train station, and she drove me around the city a bit before we went home. In the morning she took me town to the center of Cluj and we saw a bit of the city in the day. We met up with another volunteer and his counterpart and spent the afternoon with them. Cluj is an amazing city, very old and full of history. It was once a very distant outpost of the Roman Empire and was inhabited by Germans for a long time, and was a majority Hungarian until about twenty years ago. It is now a center for several universities, and is literally crawling with college students. The middle of the city is all old Saxon architecture, but the outskirts are all communist block buildings, which makes for an interesting contrast. Anyway, we went to an animal museum and basically just hung around the city for the day on Thursday. Thursday night I got to meet many members of my new organization and they did a presentation at a school about their activities over the past year, so that was very informative an exciting for me, even though I couldn't understand much of what they said in Romanian. At least there were pictures! Anyway, that about sums up the Cluj portion of my site visit.


Hey, so it has been an awful long time since I updated this here blog, so I figured I would go ahead and let people know what I have been up to. I will start off in this post talking about our trip to Brasov last weekend. Brasov is a medieval Transylvanian city about three hours from here by train. We decided that it was necessary to see this famous landmark while we were relatively close to it. So, we got on a train at 7:30 in the morning and headed up there. The day was beautiful and probably the best day I spent in Romania up until that point (maybe some better ones since). We hiked up the side of a mountain to an old fortress and hung out for a while. Then, we went down into the central square of the old German part of the city. For a long time, Romanians were not allowed to live inside the city walls, and it was only Germans there. You can definitely tell that it is an old Saxon town by the architecture. We had some lunch and hiked all over the city in the afternoon. The biggest site to visit in Brasov is the "Black Church" that dominates the city. It is the biggest gothic cathedral between Vienna and Istanbul, and it is amazing. It has an organ with 6000 pipes and was built in the 1300s. It was built as a Catholic church, but later became Lutheran after the reformation. That evening, we tried to take a bus out to Bran Castle, but it was to late, so we will have to do that some other time. Instead, we went back down to the square where there was a concert and a big festival (Brasov days). We saw "Accent" (Think Romanian NSync) and we drank beer out on the square. After a very fun evening, we went and got some shwarma at a fantastic all night restaurant called Ando's. We didn't make it back to the train station until after two AM. We finally arrived at the station in Ploiesti at 6:30 Sunday morning, exactly 23 hours after we had left. Anyway, it was a great day and an amazing town!

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Site Placement!

Hey, another post with an exclamation mark. Seems that I live a pretty exciting life these days in Romania. On Friday I learned where my site will be for the next two years, and exactly what type of work I will be doing here in Romania. I will be living in the third largest city here, Cluj-Napoca, and I will be doing work for an environmental NGO there, doing eco-tourism and environmental education with youth. Cluj is an exciting, urbane and sophisticated city, full of college students, coffee shops, and bars. There is even an international film festival every year! If you want to know more about Cluj, the wikipedia site seems pretty good: I will be working in the nearby Apuseni Mountains for my job. They are not big mountains, but they are a huge natural attraction and they are full of caves, apparently. There are some pictures of the Apuseni at this site Pretty cool looking, no? Being in such a big city center and with some cool stuff around me to do, (I wonder if you can tour the Ursus brewery?) I am expecting plenty of visitors. I will need to be purchasing a nice couch when I move in, I am sure, to accommodate whoever wants to stop by. The more people that stay with me, the better, I suppose. The job seems very exciting, very much what I was hoping for while here in Romania, and I hope to gain a ton of experience that I will be able to use in the future. Cluj is definitely a pretty Posh Corpsish site, but I also expect to be out of the city much of the time, working in mountain communities. Oh, by the way, since I will be in the largest city in Transylvania, I am hoping to have plenty of Halloween visitors as well. Party in Dracula's home, baby! (Actually, I will not be very close to Dracula's castle, and he was actually the prince of Vallacia, but no one not reading this needs to know that). Still, there will be plenty of forests and wildlife around me, and there are lots of wolves in the Apuseni mountains, so that should be all kinds of fun. Anyway, as you can tell, I have been researching my new home and job a bit this weekend, and I am excited. Three weeks until I get to visit, and five weeks until I move there. Time moves fast when you are having fun!