I can hardly believe it’s already come and gone.
Back in the fall, my parents started talking about coming out to Europe and meeting me somewhere to do a little bit of traveling together. We started planning, decided to do Italy, and then started looking at cities. Then Romania came into play. What if we went to Transylvania? Visited the Dracula Castle? Then that became, “Gosh that’s close to Moldova…what if you came to Moldova for a night?” Flights were found, flights were canceled, schedules were arranged and rearranged, and we had our itinerary. Rome, Florence, Pisa, Venice, Bucharest, Brașov, and then to Moldova for two nights. Like I said, I can’t believe it’s already come and gone.
Here are some quick highlights from our trip:
We met in Rome. For my parents, this meant a flight from west coast to east coast and a long overnight flight from Philadelphia. For me, it meant 30+ hours of traveling, starting with an overnight train into Romania, then catching an afternoon flight from Bucharest to Rome. Lucky for me, it was gorgeous outside and I spent a good portion of the day reading in the grass in Bucharest.
When I arrived in Rome, I had to catch a train/shuttle from the airport into the city. Met a guy from Amsterdam on the shuttle and we chatted quite a bit about Europe and Peace Corps and weather and art, his area of business. Having a job where you get to travel Europe for work? Where do I apply?! I started walking to the B&B from the train station, and, in Kitson-family fashion, my parents run up behind me and say “Excuse us!” as they pass me on either side. I just stopped and started laughing. Lots of hugs followed.
My favorite part of this trip was the last day when we used our hop-on, hop-off bus tickets for the “archeo-bus” tour. The bus took us outside of Rome a little more and into the countryside. It was just so beautiful.
I think I loved Florence the most this trip. Finally got to see the State of David. This was very cool. I read at the Galleria dell’Academia (where the statue stands) that this depiction of David was a deviation from many done at the time which showed David victorious in triumph after defeating Goliath. The statue includes his sling, but it is not obvious or in the forefront of the work. And his facial expression. I loved that the most. If you’ve ever read the Psalms in the Bible, many of which David wrote, I feel like Michelangelo captured who David is in his expression from what I’ve read in Psalms. He looks as if he is deep in thought, maybe conflicted; he looks pensive. And that’s why I loved seeing the statue. You’re not allowed to take photos, but I found one online to share.
(Side note on this story: I took the trouble to make reservations from Moldova to see this statue…called over the phone…so we get there and they ask me for the reservation number. The one that I have awesomely left at our B&B in the notebook I had carried around every day but that one. Haha, #winning.)
My other major stories from Florence mostly focus around food. I did make my parents hike up to the highest point in Florence with me. That was quite a view. And a bit of a workout. As for cuisine, we ate at two of the most fantastic restaurants. One called “Yellow” near Il Duomo, and another called “Il Latini.” The big cuisine in Florence is Florentine beef. Il Latini has it. We had this huge, maybe 10-course meal there. As much wine as you can drink, meat appetizers, salad, several pasta dishes, a 2 kg cut of beef cooked rare, several desserts to follow with liquor, wine to cleanse the palate, coffee and limoncello. If you go, ask about it. And don’t be intimidated by the line. There will be a crowd outside. But go when they open, and you just might manage to slide into some seats.
And then there was the case of the broken suitcase. I have to tell this story (sorry parents!). In short. Suitcase breaks (in Rome). Parents don’t want to throw it away. Parents have a matching suitcase at home (for the solid black suitcase). Parents want to find a wheeling rack instead of buying a new suitcase. Ask the guy at the reception where we can find a wheeling rack. Looks at us like we asked where to visit aliens from Mars. When we realize the wheeling rack is not going to happen, parents give in and buy a new suitcase. But still don’t want to throw away the old one. Try to mail the empty suitcase when leaving Rome. Post office closed on Saturdays. Take the empty suitcase on the train with us to Florence. (Are you laughing yet? Because all of this is quite hilarious to me.) In Florence, take the suitcase to the post office. No I don’t speak English, but you need a box, we’re told. No boxes big enough at the office. Walk outside. See a pile of boxes on the street. Grab one and run with it. (Laughter, people?) Cut it so it fits the suitcase. Use tape and scissors from the post office. Bring it back up to the window. You haven’t written a thing on that package you fools!, they say. Have us wait in line again to get help with the form. We wait. And wait. Wait while an Italian woman chews out a postal worker who’s supposed to help us. We finally get help. We go back up to the window. Our paperwork is not right. They’re speaking Italian, but somehow we manage to communicate. We finally get the makeshift box with our suitcase shipped off. The whole process takes about two hours. On our last day in Florence. This is one of those stories that I will probably have to relentlessly tease my parents about for decades to come. So sorry, parents, the teasing starts now. The solid black suitcase that my parents couldn’t leave in Italy. Several times, I threatened to throw that sucker out our hotel window. Instead, I got a great story. Fair trade.
After seeing the Statue of David, we decided to go to Pisa for the afternoon. Also very cool. Pisa is the one city I had not been to yet. The rest of them I had passed through on my first trip through Italy. But the tower. It was incredible to see in person. My mom and I talked about this. It’s something you hear about, maybe read about, and even see pictures of. But it was surprisingly very cool to see and take in in-person. We enjoyed a late lunch just down the road, with the tower still in our view. Worth the trip.
My favorite memory from Venice is running alongside the grand canal early one morning. I brought my running gear along with me on the trip, and I ran in every city we stayed in in Italy, but the run in Venice just took my breath away. I started my run as the city is still waking up, and ran through the Piazza San Marco and some of the busiest tourist spots in the area. And it was quiet. Serene. With gorgeous waterfront views. Running in a new city is one of my favorite things to do, especially in the morning. You get to know the city in a different way. And while it’s still relatively quiet. If you haven’t, try it.
I feel like Venice is one of those cities you just take in for the atmosphere. It doesn’t have near the number of historical monuments that a place like Rome does, but it is still beautiful. Romantic. You can envision great writers and visionaries from history being inspired on the streets of Venice. We did a lot of walking, a lot of taking in the city, a bit of eating, and a lot of souvenir shopping. It was good.
From Venice, we actually flew into Bucharest, Romania, where we rented a car and drove it up to Brașov, a couple of hours north in the mountains. I loved this. The drive was beautiful. Once we got to the city, however, we drove around forever trying to find the place where we made reservations. We had the wrong directions. After scouring the streets for quite some time, I hop out at a B&B and ask for help. They sell me a map and give me directions. I would’ve paid almost anything for a map and directions at that time, but luckily they only charged me 3 Romanian lei. Good thing I spoke the language, too. We finally got to our actual hotel, despite few street signs and one-way roads we had to work our way around. Never felt so good to arrive somewhere.
We explored the main plaza, the nearby Black Church, saw the narrowest street in Europe, took pictures of the narrowest street in Europe, and then headed to an authentic Romanian restaurant recommended by our hotel. And that, that was another fantastic experience for our taste buds. My mom even swindled them out of one of their beer mugs (and by “swindled,” I mean she asked to buy a coffee mug, and they offered to give her a beer mug for free instead).
The next day, we took a short hike up by our hotel that overlooks Brașov, then we headed to Bran Castle. The castle is about 30 to 45 minutes away from Brașov, and so we had a nice little drive. Bran Castle is one of the “Dracula” castles, but he didn’t really live there. Still, it was interesting to read the history of the fortress and about the most recent royal family who inhabited the structure. And the views were exquisite. I most definitely recommend.
Then we headed back to Bucharest, caught the bus from the airport to the train station, and prepared for our overnight journey.
As volunteers, we often talk about how or if it’s possible for us to actually convey our experience here. How do you describe a country? With words? Pictures? Video? It just feels…impossible. They best way to know a place is to experience it. And I’m just so glad my parents got to experience Moldova.
I showed them around the capital, walking through the outdoor markets, by the street vendors, and along the main road in the capital. We went to the Peace Corps office, to the art market, and to the national park. We met up with my friend Andrea and had lunch at a Greek restaurant in the city. Then we took the bus back to my town, and my parents got to see where I live. We walked down our main street, and I pointed out the main supermarkets and shops, where I work, the wells, all the important stuff.
My parents got to have two masa’s, here in Moldova, one with each of my host families. There were toasts gallore, a bit of cognac, a bit of wine, a bit more wine, traditional Moldovan food, lots of translating, and did I mention the wine? But they loved spending time with the families, especially sitting down with my host family from training. My dad commented on how cool it is that our family is connected to their family through me. And it’s true. It is pretty amazing. My host family from site actually brought out religious texts from teh 1600’s, handed down through generations of their family and written in calligraphy. Incredible.
My host family from training showered my parents with gifts; they gave them chocolates from Moldova, wine from Moldova, and my host sister made beaded bracelets for each of my sisters back home. My parents were just so touched. They loved talking to my host sisters and brother, who have all studied English. And my host parents took us around to see the houses they’re constructing in the area and where their gardens are. And, on top of all of that, the next morning, my host dad from training drove all the way down to my town to pick us up and take my parents and myself to the airport. When I offered to pay for gas, my host dad looked at me and said, “What gas?” It’s one of those moments where, as a voluteer, you’re convinced beyond doubt that your host family is the best host family in all of Moldova. Then you realize that about 100 other volunteers feel the same way. (But really, mine IS the best.) Below is a picture we took on timer with my host family from training. I’ll be back their direction to celebrate Easter this weekend.
Saying goodbye to my parents was hard, and I cried, but my heart was full. This is my life now, and I’m just so thankful my parents got to meet some of the people I love most in this country. All in all, it was a great trip.