Tuesday 9 July 2013

First Impressions

We're here! Tuesday was a crazy day full of travelling (about 15 hours). 

Miriam enjoyed both flights and had a few good naps in our arms. We had a bit of a luggage mishap in Berlin (they lost our stroller for awhile), but it was quickly resolved.

Once we arrived in Bucharest we were met at the airport by Dan, a friend of Eberhard (the director of the Romania Torchbearer Centre), who lives in Bucharest. Because we don't speak any Romanian, he drove us to the train station and helped us exchange our Euros for Romanian lei and buy train tickets to Brasov. We quickly learned that it is commonplace for parents to drive with their babies without a car seat since car seats aren't required by law here. So, because we had no other option, I put Miriam in the Ergo carrier, said a few silent prayers, and off we drove. It was a fairly short and slow drive, so it wasn't as scary as we anticipated but still way out of our comfort zone without a car seat.

We arrived at the train station, changed our money and bought our tickets. Dan had to leave, so we went to the McDonalds inside the train station for a place to eat and sit down for awhile since we had to wait about an hour for our train. Before we ate I took Miriam to the bathroom so I could change her diaper and had a huge reality check. One thing that's noticeable right away about Romania is that pretty much everything is either old and in ruins (literally crumbling apart) or brand new and really nice. The bathroom was the former...holes in the ground and everything. And I had to pay 1 lei to use it to change Miriam's diaper and another 1 lei to use it myself and for 3 squares of toilet paper. We are SO thankful we got Miriam's Hepatitis vaccinations this spring...just in case!

After the bathroom adventure (and practically bathing in hand sanitizer) we ate our lunch and boarded our train. Miriam loved the train and it wasn't as bad as we expected (I was now comparing everything to my bathroom experience). We've read that the trains in Romania are worse than the trains in Greece, but we didn't think this was the case. One unique feature of the Romanian rail is that there are men walking up and down the aisles selling fresh fruit, snacks, toys, etc. From what we observed, we're pretty sure this is illegal and that these men likely bribed the train conductors to be able to sell their goods on the train. When we pulled into a station and the police were sitting there, the men ran away very quickly. Bribery is fairly common practice here- when we went through customs in Bucharest there were posters on the wall warning people not to offer bribes to the customs officers for illegal entry into the country. Yikes!

While we were on the train we saw many interesting sights. Bucharest is in the south-eastern region of Romania and Brasov is in the centre of the country, so we were able to see parts of the country we have never seen before (Beius, where we have been before in Romania, is in the north-west corner of the country). We saw many villages that looked to be abandoned with houses half-built, sprawling farmers fields turned into foothills and then the Carpathian Mountains, old bridges and buildings in ruin, and funny little things like 2 men digging rocks out of a riverbed to put in a cart pulled by horses, and a field full of solar panels with a horse tied to one of them. We have heard that since the revolution ended communism in Romania in 1989 there have been some changes but many things have stayed the same for the daily life of the people. Some of these sights were evidence of that.

Eberhard met us at the train station in Predeal (the stop before Brasov) and took us on a bit of a tour of the valley before taking us to the centre. We took in some amazing views of the majestic Carpathian Mountains and he showed us some areas where they go with the mountain bike camp that will start in a few days. We also stopped at the Penny Market for diapers, wipes and baby food - all pretty much the same as other parts of Europe. They even sell different Pampers for girls than for boys here, although I'm pretty sure the fact that they're pink is the only difference. 

We arrived at the centre, ate dinner with some of the staff and then Ebbe toured us around the property. The centre itself is so nice, bright and airy, and clean. Most importantly, they have real toilets! He showed us the staff apartments, the ropes course, the leadership training and team building area, the swimming hole, the gardens, and the equipment room where they store the mountain bikes and skis, which they use for their winter ski camps. They also gave us a car seat to borrow, which we're so thankful for after yesterday's experience!

We're staying in a nice room and Miriam had a half-decent sleep last night. Unfortunately, Miriam and I both caught colds (mine is much worse than hers) so she and I willl be taking it easy for the next few days. Please pray that we feel better soon so we are able to participate in the activities here a much as is possible with a little one.

Right now at the centre is a children's camp (ages 9 to 12). The Romanian and Turkish children who are attending the camp are super cute and have been very interested in Miriam. The staff members are really nice and Ebbe and his wife Elke (the directors of the centre) have been so kind to us.

Walking around with our camera here just feels a little weird right now, so we plan to post again soon with pictures of the centre and the area when we take some.

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