In the morning, we are required to meet on the bus by 0800. I make my way to the Cantina before 0730 and see a few of the Romanian students say “you’re the first one here!” That cannot be right -then I remember that we sit in the faculty room for breakfast. I ask for my daily cup of coffee, and pick up my breakfast bag. Once we settle into the bus, the students realize we are still one person short – Maria. One of the RAU students call her, and she thought we had to be on the bus at 0830. She arrives in ten minutes and we are on our way towards Peles. The ride does not take long. About two hours later we arrive to find many Roma vendors trying to sell tourists fresh fruit. They sell strawberries, raspberries, and other berries I cannot see from my seat. It is a funny sight; the entire group trying to sell homemade baskets with fruit – I think it is a terrible business plan – too much competition. Later, there is a lone man selling his goods near the entrance gate. A smart businessman indeed! At the entrance, a few of us pick up postcards and minor souvenirs to take home. At the Peles Castle, the home built for the first Romanian king, Carol I, we are told again to pay for another camera fee. As Joshua has brought his SLR, we again determine to use this camera for memory capturing. Because the building is immaculate and the preservers want to keep it that way, we slip on gigantic slippers over our shoes. Mine, as well as others, keep trying to detach themselves from our feet. To not spoil how gorgeous this place is, I will only mention that King Carol I had great taste. He was the first person in all of Romania to install electricity throughout the palace. He also installed heating and cooling systems all while maintaining the exquisiteness and endless amounts of collections. The servant’s quarters were so large, even I would think about leaving my home just to live in that section! My favorite area was the queen’s music saloon. Not only was she a talented musician, she also invited over nationally recognized musicians to come play. In the room, there are three paintings of the seasons, and a woman to represent each. We find out that because winter was omitted because it was her most disliked season.
For lunch we have a reservation set at the Bran restaurant. To get there, we hike up stairs and walkways that lead us high into the mountains. This walk is the least bit handicap-friendly. It is a late lunch and because we arrive there at 1400, we are hungry, and starving by the time we exercise our way up there. There is a marvelous view from the top and at our table. Mirabella Dauer sits not more than 20 feet away from us. The RAU students tell us she’s a famous singer of Romania. She is slated to perform and is currently staying in the area. Lunch consists of a tomato vegetable soup, bread, meat and cheese plates, and papanasi. The papanasi is my favorite [but most sweets are my favorite]; it is a donut-like dessert topped with sour cherry preserves and sour cream.
Next adventure is to Bran castle, aka Dracula’s castle. This fortress, as famous as it is, does not strike as exquisite as the Peles. Because the government seized the building and their assets, most of the furniture and items are now gone and replaced by newer pieces. Our tour guide speaks impeccable English, and she is only 17! She is funny to be around, and with our group, she has given this tour at least 2730 times (she got bored with the many child groups she had so she started counting). Fun fact: Vlad III (the Impaler) is thought to have lived there but this is not the case. Although Dracula was based on Vlad’s personality, both have little to do with one another other than living in the same area. Much of the gruesomeness to observe include used, antique torture devices, each with a story and a picture to go with it. Most of the boards depict tortured women, and I ask our tour guide why. She replied that most of the victims were women thought to be impure, or followers of witchcraft. It is disturbing.
Afterward, the group splits to shop while others, such as myself decide to go to the haunted castle. I’m not scared of activities like this, but it is hilarious watching the others. Most of it is because as an engineer, I understand the mechanics that make a lot of this happen. The sprays of pressurized air coming from the floorboards, the hydraulic system that drops the bridge to make it feel like you’re falling, and even the men wearing scary masks does not faze me. I even say “buna ziua” to one and he replies the same back! The group in front of me screams their heads off. They tell me afterwards that the man in the mask chased one of the girls as she ran backwards shrieking in fear. We check into the Apollonia, our beautiful hotel. I get my own room as I do not want to disturb my classmates’ sleep with my snores. It is nice to have cool air, a clean room with comfy beds, and wonderful facilities since living in the residence hall. I feel so spoiled! My favorite is the moon/sun window atop of the ceiling. There are curtains covering in the sunlight and a bit of me hopes I can move them to see the stars before my sleep, but alas, I’m too short.
After checking in and freshening up, we make our way towards dinner. I am unsure of the name of the restaurant, but it is located in the shopping district. We walk our way there and finally get seated. Another three course meal is brought with each plate as lovely as the previous one. There is entertainment; the Romanian dancers frolic around us exemplifying each district’s traditional dances. Some of the professional dancers reel our students in for a quick one-on-one dance. Before the main course arrives, the dance floor is open. The band and singers belt American and Romanian tunes. Our group is torn between foods and dancing. Most of the group chooses dancing, and boy, can the Romanian students dance! Leo teaches me a traditional Romanian dance that is done in pairs, and the tempo gradually picks up until it is almost impossible to dance to. It is most fun! There are group dances involving a group circle dance using four steps, and even “the train.” During the four-step group dance, I hold an old gentleman’s hand. When it ends he kisses my hand. Although there is not anyone translating for me, I think he is impressed with my dancing or is thankful for holding his hand. We are sad when the dancing is exhausted, but extremely tired. Some continue their way to more dancing and clubbing for the night. I am an old lady and decide getting rest is the best course of action. Dr. Potecea helps us find our way back. With a deck of cards on the trip with me, I invite the remaining students (after refreshing and/or showering) to come to my room and play card games. Eugen teaches us “Macaua”, aka Macau, a Uno-like card game with different variations. Afterwards, I teach the other 3 players “Rich man, poor man,” also known as President, or Japanese Daifugō. We play until the extreme exhaustion from today takes over, and we go to sleep.