Romania: Adventures in the Ordinary

I’m heading back to my house, about to turn on Strada Castelului. It’s midday and there are two women standing outside of a coffee shop ahead of me looking up at Mt. Tampa. The mountain is moody today, with hazy clouds brooding over it, smudging the peak. The women are speaking a different language and pointing at the top. I can tell they are confused, but I can’t tell exactly why.

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I get closer to them. One turns to me and asks me a question that I can’t understand. “I’m sorry.” I say, “I don’t speak…” The woman nods quickly and taps her friend’s elbow, speaking rapidly. The friend turns to me. In English, she asks: “Do you know how to get to the cable cars? Up there on the mountain?”

Do I? I think with a smile, remembering my little accidental descent down the mountain a few days earlier. “Yes! It’s right down the street,” I say. “Follow me and I’ll show you where to turn.

And, just like that, I’m the tour guide, showing these two women around a place that, two weeks ago, I knew nothing about.

We get to the turn and I point them in the right direction before heading home again. The whole time, though, I’m thinking about how interesting adaptability is. I’ve been here less than two weeks and already this place is becoming normalized. Yes, every day I stumble across new challenges and I’m constantly encountering cultural differences, but I’m acclimatizing fairly quickly.

Interesting.

Part of this relatively smooth transition I’m attributing to two factors:

  • A lot of people here speak at least a little bit of English. This is like a safety net. It has happened so many times where someone Romanian will start speaking to me and, once I tell them I only speak English, they’ll switch to English. This kicks down a huge barrier already.

If you are wondering how journalism works in a place where I don’t understand the language: a lot of my research time is spent with Google Translate, or “right click -> translate to English” on a lot of websites. The translation isn’t great but I can figure out enough to know what I’m talking about. For interviews, I have a translator.

  •  How I grew up. This is probably one of the biggest surprises that I’ve encountered in Romania so far. I was expecting a culture that was quite different from my own, since I’ve grown up in Canada my whole life. However, I’ve felt a strange familiarity here that I couldn’t place until a few days in. This is it: I come from a Dutch family and I grew up primarily in Dutch circles. I didn’t realize how European my upbringing actually was. Now, Romania is not Holland (I’ve never even been to Holland, truthfully), but there’s a certain cultural flavour here that is similar to the way I grew up. I think that has also made the cultural transition fairly smooth for me.

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There’s another thing that has been on my mind. It’s this idea of “wanderlust,” a word that originates in German and means, according to the Oxford Dictionary, “a strong desire to travel.” It encapsulates more, though. It means craving experience, new sights, adventures in different places,  and the chance to absorb another culture.

I’ve seen this word float down through social media as a kind of “wild-spirited” ideal. I think wanderlust is important, but as I’m becoming more comfortable with this space, I remember that, although this is a new place for me, it is home to many others. This is normal life for them. I saw all of the details of this place in sharp focus at first, but already that focus is blending into familiar landmarks. I’m still intrigued by this place, but I wonder how locals see their home. Is Mt. Tampa as spectacular to them as it is to me after years of living in its shadow?

This is what I’m getting at: I think that travelling is an amazing way to learn and grow and widen your perspective. I do think that it is possible to travel, though, and not have these kind of culturally rich and perspective-opening experiences. I also think that you can experience every day as a kind of adventure, even if you never leave your hometown. It’s a character trait that sometimes takes practice, but it’s a healthy practice.

It’s finding joy in the simple things and finding beauty there too. This might sound cheesy or even too simple. I challenge you, though, to train yourself to find beauty in the ordinary details, humour in an otherwise bad or uneventful situation, or joy in the little things you take for granted like spending the day with a person you love or hearing a fantastic song or crossing that one huge thing off of your “to-do” list that has been sitting there for a while. If you develop that posture toward life at home, then travelling, if you get to do it, will become an extension of that mentality.

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I feel very privileged to be able to travel like this. I was able to say “ok I want to go there” and I went. Not everyone has this luxury, and I get that. Although I’m seeing that travel is really not all glamour and cool Instagram shots, it is also awesome and I’m loving my experience.

However, when I go home, I also know that I’ll be walking into new adventures and new spaces too. In my opinion, if you want to learn and grow, there is always a way. Whether you choose that experience, or whether life leads you into it, you can still learn and grow through it. That’s really what my trip is about, fundamentally.

There’s this sense that adventure is “out there.” Yes, it is “out there,” but “out there” can be closer to home than you think.

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