Concerning Passports and Pizza

For the first time in a long time, our day began early – 5:50AM, to be precise. That’s more in line with what I consider to be my “preferred” sleep schedule; I’m an “early to bed, early to rise” kind of person. However, with the constant noise levels in the Bethlen Gabor dorm, keeping to my regular sleep schedule has been quite impossible. So, I was happy to hear that we’d be forced to get up early for once.

I hopped out of bed with a jolly look on my face, enjoyed some quick cereal and toast for breakfast, then made sure that my duffel was packed with everything I’d need for the next four days. I made a list, and I did check it twice. We hovered outside the dorm, waiting for the arrival of our bus and our faithful bus drivers Zoltan (also known as Zoli, mentioned in the blogs about Sarajevo) and his accomplice, whose name we discovered to be Benci (short for Benedict). When they finally pulled up to the dorm gates, we stowed our bags in the back (I carried mine on) and snuggled into our all-too-familiar bus seats. Professor Feenstra made a swoop of the group, shouting, “Passports? Passports!” Everyone nodded.

The bus pulled away at 7:10, a bit later than we’d hoped but still fine as far as time was concerned. We watched the dwindling city buildings zoom past until about 7:40, when someone dashed helter-skelter to the front of the bus. Clutching the back of Professor Feenstra’s seat, he gasped –

“I’m so sorry I forgot my passport.”

Feenstra’s face was priceless.

*****

After she got over the initial shock of having to tell the bus drivers to turn around, she and her husband grumbled to themselves for quite a while about how she’d asked for passports numerous times and everyone had said that he or she had them. Thankfully, everyone maintained a cheerful mood about it – better now than 100 miles from now, right? Even the bus drivers weren’t upset, so kudos to them and one more reason that they’re our favorite bus drivers ever.

Aside from that little passport incident that put us a total of an hour behind schedule, the trip to the border went just swimmingly. We sat for an hour at the border crossing – an ordeal we’re getting too used to – and then there it was. Romania.

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Just as flat as Croatia was. Hmm.

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Benci and Zoltan switched places driving shortly after the crossing, and most of the rest of the drive was uneventful. We dilly-dallied far too long at rest stops in my humble opinion, but if that’s the least of our worries, then I’d say things went well. The scenery was beautiful, even from the inside of a bus.

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We gradually headed from the flatlands into more mountainous terrain, where we stumbled by chance upon a curious castle perched precariously on a hilltop.

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We passed through Arad, a rather large town considering the fact that we were in Romania and nowhere near Bucharest. Arad had some pretty neat architecture, but we only got glimpses of it from the bus and didn’t have time to stop and check it out.

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It was only after Arad that things went downhill fast, at least on my end of the deal. For everyone else, all was well. But much of the bus trip had been filled with loud laughter and surges of conversation that even Feenstra acknowledged as “raucous.” My ears were having a bit of a struggle dealing with it. I had my headphones powered on and chugging out as much noise-cancelling goodness as they could muster, but they crackled and zipped in and out of use as their battery was gasping out its last drops of juice. My eardrums were having muscle spasms, which is not at all uncommon when I’ve been around too much noise for too long. Then, shooting pains jolted from my eardrums out to the lobes of my ears. Also not uncommon. It was what started happening after that which concerned me (and even Feenstra, the nurse).

The pain spread slowly into my temples, jaw, and teeth, which is usually where it goes next. But as it started oozing down the muscles in my neck and my spine, I knew that things were a little different this time. Katie told me that my eyes looked glassy, and the pain continued to creep down my spine toward my hips. In the past, I’ve had pain in my back caused by the noise that has kept me from sleeping on my back, but this pain was new. It filtered in between my ribs and localized to the left side of my body. Stabs of pain wiggled down the back of my arm and gradually reached the tips of the fingers on my left hand. My collarbone was speckled with short but stabbing pains. Then, my left hand started to tingle and go numb.

Is it just me, or does this sound like a heart attack? Feenstra thought so, and I have a tendency to trust a nurse’s intuition. Even though she’s specialized in maternal and newborn care, she’s still a registered nurse.

Of course, I’m doing well now or I wouldn’t be writing this. But I’m a bit disconcerted that something like the prospect of a “miniature heart attack” could have occurred. It brings to my mind a very close friend and her family, whose father is struggling with the after effects of multiple heart attacks – the news that a heart transplant will be necessary to give him more than the next few years of life. I hope that they are doing well and that they received the encouraging letter/postcard that I sent from Heroes’ Square in Budapest.

*****

I was so thankful when we arrived at a small restaurant in Lupeni, our destination in the Romanian “backwoods” of Transylvania. I got out of the bus, away from the loud voices, and my condition improved as I was able to rest in a less noisy environment.

Sidenote here: we did not stay in a town pronounced loo-PEN-ee. It’s loo-PEN.

Anyway, the restaurant was called Pizzeria Mamma Mia, and it would become not only our base of operations but also our (reluctant) food source during our stay.

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And so began my large-scale weekend consumption of pizza. No, seriously. You have no idea. I ate eighteen pieces of pizza in three days.

Eighteen. 18. You read that right.

Why? Because if you walk up to any Romanian in Lupeni and ask where to eat, you get this answer: “Oh, we’ve got two really great restaurants here. One is a pizzeria, and the other is a pizzeria.”

Literally. You want another type of restaurant that doesn’t serve pizza? You have to leave Lupeni and journey for about 45 minutes by car to the nearest town.

Please keep in mind also that, in contrast to American pizza, European pizza is very thin. So I’m not eating as much per piece, meaning I can eat more. So don’t think I just ate the equivalent of 18 American slices. That would be insane, my friend.

So yeah, I got to feeling better after being out of the constant noise and hum of the bus. I ordered a pizza navoli, which had mushrooms, tomatoes, sauce, cheese, and corn. It was a 32cm diameter pizza, and I ate all of it in one sitting. As well as downing five glasses of lemonade.

A note on the lemonade also – it was probably the most unique lemonade I’ve ever tasted, but it was also undeniably some of the best. It had orange in it, pulp included, and it was about as sweet as, well, sweet. I loved it. Whenever we went back to Mamma Mia, I made sure to get a liter of it and drink it all.

*****

After I’d rested up in the restaurant, had a good meal, and could feel my hand again, I enjoyed chilling in at the table while everyone else finished their meals and watching two men play pool. Having parents who both played pool in a league, I do have a basic idea of how to play, of course. 😉 These guys were taking it seriously. They racked the balls correctly, and when they broke they sunk quite a few. I never saw either of them scratch, and the game was always close. I never saw them chalk their sticks either, but I think that’s more because I also couldn’t find chalk blocks anywhere than because they didn’t want to.

After we left, it was one zig-zaggy bus ride up a Transylvanian mountain to our hostel. If you thought Lupeni was “back woods,” this place was the back woods’ exiled second cousin twice removed.

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Don’t get me wrong, the hostel itself is quite nice. When we got there, the darkness on the mountain seemed to swallow us up entirely, but in contrast the brilliance of the stars (much more visible here than even back home in Meadville) shown out all the brighter. We stumbled in the darkness over the mountain path to the front door. The frigid night air was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. It was then that we discovered that the hostel had no electricity. Or heat. Cool.

Literally.

We stumbled around in the dark to discover which rooms held how many people, and then I dropped my stuff in a room with a bunk bed. Many of the students walked around with open laptops to cast light into the unfamiliar hallways. Because the radiators ran on electricity, our heat sources were out of commission, too; ducking into my room and shutting the door quickly to keep in what little warmth there was, I gave up on getting out what I was wearing the next day or unpacking at all and just laid down. Thankfully, for once, everyone else had the same idea as well, and it didn’t take long for the halls to quiet down. I kept my normal socks on and put some insulated ones over them, then unfolded the blanket in the dark and hoped for a good night’s rest. Thankfully, the blanket was made from heavy down, and I was quite warm enough.

*****

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, which will record the events of Friday, our first “real” day in Romania!

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