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August 2016

Castlevania: The Eternal Trap of the Tourists   (published in Romania)

August 28, 2016 by   Comments(1)

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My second week is already done in Romania…? That can't be… It's going way too fast. Can't we just put on the brakes, and make this last a little longer? I love it here: this is what Projects Abroad should be all about.

I finished the workshop with the two high school girls this week. We ultimately decided it would be best for us to make a minute commercial for hand-crafted bracelets. Of course, they didn't actually come up with the concept: the teacher did. But they put on a great show, and I am happy with the product.

The care placement at Casa Mea is going well, too. The kids are a little less sweet this week… I guess they're use to me. I am doing the promo video, but I am having a hell of a time sitting anyone down to do an interview. I can't really explain the institution without interviews, and I certainly don't want to only have the lady in charge talking, but I have to what I can.

Everything is going well in the host family. I am alone at the moment, I was sharing the house with another volunteer from Hungaria, but he ultimately decided to leave Projects Abroad. Athena is really like the mom from "Everybody Loves Raymond," but if she only spoke German and Romanian.

Lately, all the news seems to really happen on the weekend. Which is good… things should go according to plan at placement: all expectations have been met. They're doing Oktoberfest in Brasov, and for the first time in my life, I became a little, er, fun. My first ever beer was Romanian… and I must say, it was not the best decision I could have made.

On Saturday, I went to the Brasov Art Museum. It's a joke compared to Cincinnati. That's not to say that there weren't amazing works in there. They just weren't hung with any care, and many of them are in desperate need of restoration. I then went to the organ concert at the black church. The guy made some mistakes. He thought I didn't hear… but I did!

Today, I went to Bran (Bran, not Bram) Castle, also known as Dracula's castle. What does this castle have to do with Dracula? Nothing. Nothing at all. It is the only castle in Romania that matches Stoker's description, and yes, like in the novel, getting there can be a real bitch. Other than that, there is no connection to vampires or anything cool. Vlad ȚepeȘ might have been imprisoned there, but that's pretty much it.

Basically, it's a massive tourist trap filled with people, and one guy actually yelled at me for bumping into him and not saying "excuse me." With crowds like that, dude, your going to be bumped. They also had a haunted house next door to the castle entrance. They proudly proclaimed, "You can't get your money back once you go through." Lord, wasn't that the truth…

That is not to say that there were not amazing parts of the castle. The little details on the walls and doors were really the best parts. Sometimes there would be these incredible reliefs simply gracing the foyers.

So ends my second week with Projects Abroad Romania. I will hold on to this last week and savor it like fine wine (which, sadly, the Serbians have the Romanians beat). We have hit the second place winner with Projects Abroad: they have one more week to beat Morocco, and honestly, it could happen. Love, happiness, and God's Providence.

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Castlevania: The Eternal Trap of the Tourists
Castlevania: The Eternal Trap of the Tourists

I'm So Tired… But I Also Want to BLog…   (published in Romania)

August 21, 2016 by   Comments(1)

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My first week in Romania has already come and gone. I don't like that it's going this fast… Actually, it's kind of freaking me out. But it has been a really good week.

I am doing two placements: the first is actually 45 minutes away from Brasov (remember the thing last time about using imagination for the curly s thing) in a town called Prejmer. It's not drama or film really: it's more of a care placement. I've been trying to do some drama stuff with them, but it isn't working out all that well… I think I need to just be with the kids and play with them. The head of the organization wants me to film a promo video for them, so I have been grabbing some footage… problem is, I can't show any of the kids' faces (except for the older teenagers). It's a challenge, but I can do it.

I absolutely love the second placement. I am teaching two high school students how to write and develop a video. I was hoping for more students, but we can definitely do something… maybe not a full project, but we can do a character profile. This one is right up my ally, and one of the girls said, "This is really amazing for me!" If there's one thing I love talking about it's character. Of course, this is the placement that only meets for two hours and we only have four days left.

Everything is good at the host family… me and a vet volunteer from Hungaria basically share an entire house, while Athena lives in an adjacent house. But she comes and checks on us often… she is really sweet.

This weekend I went to Cluj-Napoca. Anyone who knows me knows that I am huge Nicolae Bretan fanboy, and Cluj was his city. I toured the center, the central park, and the Hoia Baciu Forest, at night. The supposedly most haunted forest in the world has nothing really odd or supernatural at all. But, when you walk in there, you can't deny that it is a really special place. It's almost like the forest is putting on a performance for you. It is in no way ominous or evil… but I could see people saying it's a great place to meditate.

So, good week so far. Hope the other two or just as awesome. I'm literally ready to collapse now: that seven hour train ride from Cluj kind of wrecked me. Good night!

(10 from 1 votes)
I'm So Tired… But I Also Want to BLog…
I'm So Tired… But I Also Want to BLog…

My First Week… Which has Little to Do With Romania, and Even Less With Projects Abroad   (published in Romania)

August 14, 2016 by   Comments(1)

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For the past couple of years, I have wanted to see Serbia, and now, I have finally had that opportunity. I absolutely loved my pre-travels to Serbia… I went with a company called Tours2Serbia. My guide, the head of the company, Zlatan, was absolutely amazing and he was even kind enough to take me to my volunteer placement in Brasov (imagine a little squiggly tale on that S… I'm too lazy to go hunting for it). Of course, to find this company, you would just have to Google them, because TripAdvisor doesn't seem to recognize it. Ah, TripAdvisor… in with the bad and out with the good!

I arrived in Belgrade, and of course, United Airlines lost my luggage. Isn't weird to pay a $100 baggage fee for the bag to not arrive! That just seems completely stupid to me! Zlatan, however, was kind enough to help me sort the whole mess out (I received a day later) and he was even good enough to buy some toothpaste. Yes, the toothpaste was in the missing luggage.

We started the tour seeing Belgrade. Belgrade is an amazing town with some really cool architecture. Probably my favorite thing in Belgrade was the St. Sava church, which they started building over a century ago, and they still aren't done with it. The Serbians wanted to build a church on the highest spot in Belgrade, and of course, Ottoman Turks decided to burn some of the holy relics. You will find that the Ottoman Turks are scary in a little bit. We also visited the grave of communist ruler Tito. He was actually substantially more moderate than Ceausescu, and he even angered Stalin by not officially joining in an alliance with him. Tito envisioned an open, diverse Serbia (then Yugoslavia), and as a result, the people enjoyed a decent quality of life then.

We then proceeded to Toppola, a church that is covered in wonderfully detailed mosaics. I mean, every last inch seems to have a bit of mosaic on it. We then proceeded to have a small wine tasting, and then, we made our way to the city of Nis (imagine a little v over the s… again, laziness). Nis is famous for being the birthplace of Constantine. We don't know where he was born, but we do know where his amazing summer villa is.


Of course, the main draw for Nis, and one of the reasons why I wanted to come to Serbia, was to see the Skull Tower. In 1809, the Serbs decided to rebel against Ottoman rule, and they were badly crushed in the process. To warn the Serbs never to pull a stunt like that again, the Turks skinned the skulls of the Serbian resistance (don't ask what they did with the flesh… I don't know and don't want to) and built a tower out of them. Of course, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the families went ahead and claimed the skulls of their relatives. Again, don't ask me, because I don't know and I'm sure I don't want to find out. The Skull Tower is housed in a little chapel, and honestly, it's not that big. It's still very powerful, and very awkward… especially since I was snapping photos left and right, when it is forbidden. Actually, that is my only real problem with Serbia… you aren't really allowed to take photos in the churches.

The last major thing we did in Serbia was visit Novi Sad, and Petrovaradin Fortress. This Fortress was built to defend against the Turks, but it was never used for that cause. Why? Because the Austrian forces (the northern part of Serbia was under Austrian rule in the 1760s) went to the Turks and ambushed them. The Austrian troops won, even though they were outnumbered 10:1. The Turkish commander, Damit Ali Pash, was sent a piece of red silk from the sultan, which, the red silk basically means, "Fail, kill yourself!" You can see Damit Ali Pash's tomb in Belgrade.

From Novi Sad, we started our journey to Timisoara in Romania (again, imagine the Romanian squiggly under the s). It took forever, as one could expect. Timisoara is a beautiful city, filled with both a German and Latino influence. We didn't have a whole lot of time as Zlatan was sort of pressed for time to bring me to Brasov. We did stop by the Hunedoara castle, which I honestly learned nothing about while I was there. The visit was really me trying to dodge armies of tourists and trying to get the stupid audio guide to work (Zlatan had to go prepare some things for the ride to Brasov). It is a gorgeous castle, built by John Hunayid (or John the Hungarian). It was where Vlad III (or Vlad the Impaler) was held prisoner, before entering an alliance with John. The castle has gone under some restoration, but honestly, they could use more, and the architects seem to admit that they were just making stuff up in the restoration work.

From there, my pre-travel portion ended when Zlatan dropped me off at the beautiful and friendly-staffed Casa Wagner in Brasov.

Now, we reach today, where Damien from Projects Abroad met me at Casa Wagner (after some confusion as to the time… Carlos told me a wrong…). He did a great job of welcoming me, and he is certainly filled with charisma. He took me to my host family, which is the household of Mrs. Athena Blaj and her husband Iosif. They don't really speak English, or Spanish, but they are so warm and welcoming. I really feel like they are committed to my happiness and making sure that I have a comfortable stay here.

Finally, I will shut up. Overall, the Serbia tour was amazing, one of the best tours I've ever had. I have never had a bad host family with Projects Abroad (I know what you're thinking, that I never stopped bitching about Mongolia, but that was only because her apartment was caving in on itself… she herself was really great). I do think that my host here may be in the running for my favorite, after Morocco of course (but hey, that is a monstrously hard act to follow).

Is anyone still reading this? If so, thank you, God bless, and I will be back with more posts (…you've been warned...)

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My First Week… Which has Little to Do With Romania, and Even Less With Projects Abroad
My First Week… Which has Little to Do With Romania, and Even Less With Projects Abroad

This is a Good Post... Even if It's Awkward...   (published in Romania)

August 5, 2016 by   Comments(3)

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Ususally, before one of my Projects Abroad trips, I have written my first blog almost an entire month before deaparture. This year, I am writing it a mere two days before I leave. Is there an entertaining, philosophical reason why I waited so long? No.

I must first start by saying that I am not upset with Projects Abroad in anyway. I know if you were following my Mongolia blog from last year that you may think I harbor some heated ill feelings. I don't: there are a lot of great things about Mongolia. The simple truth is that, for whatever reason, the administration and I butted heads, and I never really understood why. Some things just don't click, and me Mongolia, despite all of its wonderful qualities, didn't. The staff at Projects Abroad have been wonderful in helping me plan this new trip to Romania, and I must say that I am really excited.

Before I arrive in Romania, I will be doing some touring in Serbia. It's from the company Tours2Serbia. I've always wanted to see Serbia, and since I'm literally going to be next door, this seemed like the perfect time to hop on that dream. I am really excited about the drama project in Romania: I think we can do things we never thought possible. We can deliver some truly amazing products.

Overall, I am still a fan of Projects Abroad, and I suppose I always be. Will some trips be better than others? Of course. But the thing that makes a company stand out is what they intend to do to improve the trips that don't live up to the customer's expectations. Projects Abroad told me they were making quite a few positive changes, and overall, when I look at what I see planned for me in Romania, I really couldn't be happier.

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This is a Good Post... Even if It's Awkward...
This is a Good Post... Even if It's Awkward...