As I write this, we’re days away from Halloween, and I’ve been thinking a lot about fear. I’ve been considering fear not in a goblins and ghouls way, but in a very macabre Robert California from The Office at the Halloween Party way.
I went to Romania well over a year ago, and writing a blog post on the adventure has been on my mind ever since. I always assumed that I’d be writing about Romania from a SpOoOoOky angle, focusing heavily on my visit to “Dracula’s Castle”, but nothing would ever come to me each time I sat down to write.
It was time to look at fear in another manner. When I consider what makes me afraid, what keeps me up at night, it’s not witches and monsters. I have five very specific fears, and ironically, I had to come face to face with each one of them during my trip. To many, haunted mansions or hotels are the most frightening places imaginable to visit. For me, the place I’m often most afraid to travel, is deep within myself. Even more frightening, is sharing these deepest fears with you, dear reader!
Fear of the Unplanned Adventure: I plan everything. I’m hyper aware of the fact that we are given one life to live. There are so many countries to visit, and I’m not sure I’ll ever return to Romania. When I found out that I would have the chance to visit, I wanted to do it right. One of my biggest fears would be wandering aimlessly and wasting time when I could have been experiencing something meaningful and exciting, something I would be proud to talk about with family and friends. However, for reasons I’m sure had to do with over fatigue from my job, I dared to get outside of my comfort zone, and leave day one of Romania…TO CHANCE. (Thunder and lightning crash ominously/bats fly out of a cave.) Most people fear speaking the language of a new country or understanding the currency when traveling to a new country, I fear not having a comprehensive and well planned adventure. It keeps me up at night. For once in my life, on a whim, I rolled the dice and said, “let’s see what happens today.” I’m still a fan of well planned journeys, but, guys…day one was the best day in Romania. I had few expectations of where to eat and what to see, and thus, everything I witnessed for the day and well into the evening was exciting and new. Romania’s capital city of Bucharest has no shortage of amazing restaurants with plenty of outdoor seating for summer, adorable and uniquely themed coffee shops, and NIGHTLIFE. I was SHOCKED to discover that Bucharest can get DOWN! I would put Bucharest’s nightlife up against any city in the world. It has glamour, craziness, and incredible booze and music, but in a cozy, intimate, and approachable atmosphere. The city is small and easily navigable. The streets are flooded with people sitting outside eating dinner and bouncing from bar to bar.
Bucharest isn’t just a night owl’s haven. There is plenty to do during the day! We walked to the Palace of Parliament thinking it was the House of Ceausescu. The notorious home of Romania’s communist leader in the 1970’s, Nicolae Ceausescu. Ceausescu is known for his totalitarian style of ruling and using tax dollars to fund his mega-mansion. I heard mixed opinions about his house as a tourist attraction, I was even scolded on one occasion by a man who felt, “it’s not right what they’ve done with his house. They’re glorifying him.” Evil dictator or not, I find large mansions interesting to wander regardless of circumstance. I could only imagine the shock on the revolutionaries faces upon seeing how Ceausescu had been living. Moving backward, I was a bit perturbed by the error of mixing up the sights. I hadn’t the least bit interest in seeing the Parliament building, but my husband did, and so we pressed on. I enjoyed the tour a lot more than I thought I would, although some of the figures and events mentioned were ambiguous to me as a product of someone who only has been taught history in the United States where history like Romania’s is largely neglected.
Fear of Missing Out on an Instagrammable Moment: I’m really terrible at anything involving physical exercise. However, for a unique Instagram shot, I was willing to climb the (what felt like) 3,000 stairs to the top of the Pura Vida sky lounge. The journey upstairs is so arduous, that many of the steps are painted with words of encouragement to keep going even though it’s difficult. I have to admit, we stopped to laugh at a few of the sayings on the steps. Pura Vida Sky Lounge was the first place I had ever heard of which featured “blue wine” on their menu. I am always looking to showcase experiences that are unique, and I knew that none of my friends, family, or two followers had probably ever heard of blue wine, THIS WAS MY OPPORTUNITY FOR A MOMENT OF GREATNESS. Leonardo da Vinci had his art, Luther had his reformation, and my legacy would be the first of my circle to throw this wine into my mouth and up on the ‘gram. My husband went to get us two glasses. I literally polished my phone’s camera lens and adjusted the settings to showcase the azure alcohol in all of its glory. I imagined (pathetically as I look back) how interesting people would find this photo to be. The bar even offered a unique paint splattered counter to rest drinks on which was in and of itself an interesting background for the star of the photo. Then, utter defeat. My husband put his hand on my back and returned with nothing. “No..no this couldn’t be possible.” I thought. “So, they ran out of blue wine. Is white wine ok?” NOOOOOOOOO! My chance at being an influencer had come and gone. I pouted, I made overly loud comments wondering “how a bar which showcases something so unique could simply run out” at prime drinking time. I pounded my fist against the paint splattered bar top. “Fine. I’ll take the vino blanc” or better yet….vino BLAND. I drummed my finger tips, and stared out into the night air. It was refreshing after such a long climb. I swiveled in my seat and watched the other people at the bar and wondered about their stories. I especially remember a group of friends who were celebrating nothing in particular, seemingly just reveling in the happiness of a Friday with friends and drinks. Their smiles were genuine and their voices joyful. I couldn’t help but smile myself. This trip wasn’t about blue wine, or pleasing the Insta-masses. After all, they hadn’t worked hard to get me here, my husband and I did. Pouting over something so fucking stupid wasn’t bringing me joy, and blue wine wasn’t going to skyrocket me to Insta-stardom. Until this point, I always admired influencers. However, the real influencers of the night were the random people sitting at the table across from me. Without even speaking to me, they persuaded me to adjust my attitude, change my outlook, and to have a good time and be grateful that I was even in Bucharest.
Fear of No Sleep: For the past several years I’ve been dealing with a weird form of illness. I’ll spare you the details and quickly tell you that no one has been able to get to the root of the illness, but it’s believed to be a weird form of migraine. When I have an “episode” I feel extremely dizzy, develop severe brain fog and forgetfulness, sensitivity to light, and become very faint. I’ve noticed that lack of sleep pretty much guarantees I will have an episode the following day. Knowing this association, I’ve inadvertently created a situation where I put myself into an episode by becoming anxious when I know I’ve had an inadequate amount of sleep, or when I know I am about to face an inadequate amount of sleep. A twelve hour layover in Lisbon coupled with being unable to get into our AirBnB upon arriving in Bucharest culminated in me facing a fear…I was awake for 36 hours without any chance to sleep. As we drove from the airport to the center of Bucharest, my anxiety at having an “episode” of sickness was palpable. My palms were sweaty, my hands shook, I found myself going on about how I felt I could possibly faint, I felt the severe brain fog, almost as if I were dreaming.
We tried to check into our AirBnB, and the young woman we woke up by pounding on the door told us that she still had not checked out, and we had to wait for the cleaning crew. I found myself in a full panic, on the verge of tears blaming EVERYONE (inappropriately) for the impending episode of sickness I was bound to face that afternoon. We were forced to sit in a restaurant’s abandoned outdoor seating area, and watch the city come to life slowly. I’ve read that apple juice calms people who are having a bad high on marijuana, and so, I’ve convinced myself that is calms panic too. Luckily, I had a small bottle of apple juice in my purse, and I sipped it slowly. I put my feet up on my suitcase and was forced to be in the moment. I noticed things I probably would have neglected entirely had the universe permitted me to rush about to my room, get ready for a tour, find the cutest breakfast spots, and so on.
I noticed a woman dressed exquisitely in all black doing the sign of the cross as she passed by, and no less than a dozen others who also would make the sign of the cross as they passed us at our table. I’m still not sure the precise reasons for this seemingly impromptu entertainment, but I have to assume I had my back to a church. I noticed the sounds of birds and how good the cool breeze felt in the air. Soon, I became excited about having had the opportunity to have Bucharest to ourselves. We busied ourselves with sightseeing and tours, and although I was tired, I no longer felt a sense of panic, but excitement having seen much of the city and thinking about all there was still to do.
Fear of Not Being Enough: I have a really great personality. I’m funny, witty, generous, fun, interesting, and nice. I’m not entirely sure, but I may have developed such a substantial personality as a way of coping with what I feel I lack in physical looks. For a very long time, if a noticeably beautiful woman would walk in the room, I would suddenly question my own worth. I would feel like a brightly shining candle who is blown out and forgotten, if only in my own mind. Admittedly, for a long time, no number of good deeds or triumphs in life could compensate for what I felt I lacked in physicality. Romania is full of beautiful, leggy, fashionable, confident women. The kind of women who would make a very recent version of myself want to blend into a wall in fear of being compared unfavorably. We visited one of the most charming and popular restaurants in Bucharest called Caru’cu bere. The food was filling and there were a ton of options. Ordering nearly everything off of the menu and an entire bottle of wine barely put a dent in our pocket. I’ll be honest, I felt special. Romania is one of the few places in Europe that an average, middle class person can feel wealthy and important. Most importantly, we didn’t feel ripped off in any way. We toasted and took in the rustic and kitschy atmosphere around us, celebrating the kickoff to our honeymoon.
Then. Entertainment. Beautiful, well – polished young women, and frail young men poured onto the dance floor to show off traditional Romanian dance and eventually, to pull participants on the floor to slow dance. A young woman, with a beautiful dress, flawless skin, and fluttering eyelashes immediately came to our table and asked my husband to dance. I was tempted to do what I normally do which was critically examine all of the ways we were different, and how that made her better than me. But, I chose happiness over fear. I told myself that this was not a malicious act, but a wonderful way for the restaurant to share a beautiful part of their culture with the guests of the restaurant. I snapped photos and laughed as soon other men were brought onto the floor to be lead around by experienced dancers. I noticed other wives and girlfriends clapping along and smiling, and I found myself doing the same. Eventually, women were invited up and I was asked to dance as well. Looking back, we were sitting closest to the dance floor and we were doing a good job of celebrating (our recent marriage) I would not be surprised if the dancers were actually going out of their way to give us an extra special memory. Choosing to see myself as enough that night in hindsight was one of the most important things I could have done. I now have a completely different outlook on myself to the point that this story is almost cringy to write, but I like to keep it real. In fact, that night we went to an awesome dance club where eventually a gorgeous topless dancer made her way to the stage. Rather than running the other way out of the club, I wrote off the dancer as “an interesting part of the atmosphere” and instead engaged in conversation with the bartender (pictured in a selfie which he took below) who was friendly and made damn good drinks. Also, shots were absolutely free that night! Beauty is not exclusive to an upper echelon of people. Beauty lies within all of us, and what makes us especially beautiful, no matter who we are, is a strong sense of self confidence and letting it shine like a beacon when we walk into a room instead of cowering in the corner and comparing ourselves.
Fear of a Travel Mishap: I book all excursions in advance. It has been my experience that activities fill up quickly. If you book activities in advance, you have a guaranteed, (usually) awesome adventure for the day. There is a higher chance of meaningful memories and well planned, stress free, adventures. I booked Arthur and I for a full day adventure. We were to visit the Brown Bear Sanctuary, Brasov, Rasnov fortress, and “Dracula’s castle”, which every self righteous traveler will have you know is actually and technically called Bran Castle. Our guide and fellow travelers were nice enough, and the day started off with pleasant exchanges. However, matters suddenly took a turn for the worst.
Our driver and guide kept re-stating the fact that we had to be at the sanctuary promptly, and that we were only narrowly on time. The kicker was, HE had set the time for everyone’s pick up! Why not set the time for the tour earlier then? The thought of missing even a moment of this well planned excursion nearly set me over the edge, he kept reinforcing that time was of the essence and I grew more and more frustrated over his constantly saying this, and us passengers having no control over making it there on time. Then – the worst for any type A planner. A traffic jam. On a one lane highway.
A tree had fallen down, and there was no way off of the line of traffic. Still, I remained hopeful that soon the cars around us, and eventually ours would begin moving. There was no way that the universe would allow for such an egregious mishap in my well laden plans. After one hour, our guide had informed us that we would not be seeing the brown bear sanctuary. He wondered whether we would like to see brown bears at the zoo instead. “That’s the opposite of a sanctuary” my husband protested, and a passenger in the back strongly agreed. “Let me ask you this, why do you want to see the bears?” Why? What the fuck did he mean why? I had my reasons for why I wanted to see them, but I didn’t feel like I should have to explain or justify why I wanted to see them. I signed up for the tour, why press me? He proceeded to tell us that the sanctuary was nothing special and that the rest of the day would be wonderful.
However, we remained locked in traffic for another hour.
Finally, we began moving, but I’m sure I still have indents on my palms from where my fingernails were stabbing into my hands as I balled my fists in frustration and anger. Nonetheless, I must have had an extra xanax that morning, because I decided that today would be a good day regardless.
Brasov was our next stop. Upon exiting the van I immediately fell in love and wanted to photograph everything. Charming is the only way that I could possibly describe Brasov. It was jovial and lively with a multitude of tents set up in the main square selling everything imaginable. I use that phrase in good faith because I was able to locate and buy a freaking Joe Bonamossa CD for my father…of all things to find! Brasov is storybook-esque with brightly colored buildings, beautiful fountains, and cobblestone streets.
Getting back into the van, morale had returned and brown bear-gate was water under the bridge. We all talked excitedly and compared the souvenirs we had purchased. That is until the grim reaper, our tour guide, gave us more bad news (his nickname is apt.) “So, since we spent so much time at Brasov, we’re going to have to rush through Bran Castle to make it to the last stop. I suggest we snap some photos of the castle and leave.” Once again, my heart began to beat and I could feel my blood pressure skyrocket. My husband, who is normally the least argumentative person on earth put his foot down. He announced that we came all this way to see the castle and that we would be looking inside, no exceptions. Grim asked, “Why do you want to see the inside of the castle? It’s not that interesting, it’s not like in the movies.” This constant questioning of why I wanted to see the things on the tour was maddening. I was ecstatic to get out of the van after awhile and get to the castle.
It was haunting, chilling, and beautiful. However, our guide did not allow us to do a guided tour, so I was not able to learn too much. I got some decent photographs and got to scour each and every room. At the very least I was able to make the most of the situation and let my imagination run wild in each new room that I discovered. To me, this was the most important piece of the day, and getting to see the castle was an experience that I am truly grateful for in any capacity.
Once back in the van, our guide informed us that we had missed Rasnov fortress, but that he would get us to Peles castle in time to tour it and take photographs. I’m sure you can already sense the finale…we didn’t make it and simply walked around the grounds. Our guide feigned understanding of our situation, but ultimately felt he bared no responsibility and did not issue us a refund. I feel that he did at the very least due to his mismanagement of time.
In the end, this whole mishap was the worst thing that I could imagine happening to me while traveling (other than murder and stuff.) I spend hours…HOURS meticulously researching activities to do and then more hours re-reading my itineraries and dreaming about my plans. By the time the trip comes, I have the schedule etched into my memory. To me, situations like the aforementioned are equated with a waste of time and a terrible experience, certainly not one to treasure.
As frustrated as I was, the opportunity to practice gratitude unfolded. Unbeknownst to me until this point, we cannot always have what we desire. If God or the universe decided that the day in its entirety could not happen, they gave a damn good compromise in letting me see the one piece of the day that I longed to see the most. While sitting in traffic, I was able to sit on the guardrail of the highway and look out into the woods. The same woods I had seen in every corny film made about Romania. To me, those woods were synonymous with Romania. Staring out into them and into the mountains, I was able to take a few deep breaths and realize…I’m here, I made it. However today turns out, tomorrow is a new one in the same place. What matters is, I’m here.
Romania was everything I could have ever hoped to discover and more. Its identity is rustic, rugged, and unique. Its history and folklore is rich. Before leaving, I had images of Romania being vaguely haunting and spooky. However, I stood against fears that I was not prepared for and would never had guessed I’d be coming up against. There is so much more behind the impeccable Instagram photos and wise quotes that people post. Every person who travels winds up facing some fear or level of discomfort. I wound up facing so many of my deepest fears unexpectedly and all within three days. At the same time as this trip, I was experiencing one of my most significant bouts of anxiety that I ever recall grappling. Working through these challenges in Romania put me in a great place for the rest of my honeymoon. Ever since this trip, I do not tense up in the face of adversity or difficulty, but embrace it calmly and work through it logically knowing that everything will always, for the most part, work out just fine, but only if I believe it will. I’m curious, what are your travel related fears, or any fears for that matter!? Tell me in the comments and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!