Getting Schooled in Bucharest

Feeding the birds - Bucharest Romania - by Anika Mikkelson - Miss Maps - www.MissMaps.com
Feeding the birds – Bucharest Romania – by Anika Mikkelson – Miss Maps – www.MissMaps.com

Agreeing to act as part time Au Pair for two school boys seemed like the perfect fit for this middle school teacher turned traveller. It would take all those care free moments I love, bring me to a new place, provide me with my own apartment, and allow me to become a small part of a Romanian family, therefore fully capturing the culture of a country I’d fallen madly in love with.

I was so excited to go to Romania’s capital and for the first time in 6 months, to have a place that would allow me to invite others to ‘My Home!’ I’d get to watch the final falling of leafs and ‘oo’ and ‘ah’ at streets aglow with Christmas lights during the first weeks of December. I’d get to kick my feet up and relax with a good book or movie, catch up on my blog, and begin some new projects I’d been dreaming of. I’d invited my brother to visit from France over Christmas and had made tentative plans with other traveling friends to stay a few nights as well.

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Not everything worked out as planned.

Arriving in Bucharest, I had high hopes, great expectations. But I felt so out of place. So alone.

I was embarrassed to walk the streets in my typical rotation of boots versus tennis shoes, grey pants versus jeans, pink flannel versus yellow flannel versus occasional flowered tunic.

The apartment had no internet, the family’s house had no internet, I couldn’t find any neighbors willing to share their password. Actually, I gave up after knocking on a few doors only to have a woman in a terrycloth robe and crochet slippers yell at me in Romanian for disturbing her peace, or something like that. But your television was on, I could hear it! Still, it was an oops and made me hesitant to see what was behind door number two, three or four.

Cafes were happy to have me as a high paying customer to sit and use their wifi while forking up some grub and simultaneously forking over some cash. At the same time, every trip I made out was for one purpose: instead of meeting people, I was glued to my screen, packing in five hours’ worth of computer work into forty five minutes at a cafe. My wallet was quickly becoming more and more empty, my connection to family more and more distant, and my blog more and more sparse. And me… more and more lost.

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I despised Bucharest. I wanted to leave so badly, but stuck it out so my brother would have a place to visit during Christmastime and so that I wouldn’t label myself as a perpetual quitter.

But it wasn’t just this. It wasn’t just my self labeling or the stares I felt I received as each day I walked the same two mile path path in the same shoes and as each day I grabbed a covrigi at the same stand, waited at the same intersection at the same time for the same blue jacketed preteen to arrive after school, board the same tram to his house to work on homework and practice English with him and his little brother, and ducked under the same archway home each night.

Bucharest met me with a challenge I wasn’t ready for. I can navigate streets and haggle my way through lesser developed countries. Traveling full time, I can easily call the world my home but couldn’t manage to call this ninth floor apartment by the same name. It wasn’t home. Maybe it was too homey, too comfortable!

I contemplated leaving Romania after just a few days in the capital city. But something made me stay and after a couple weeks, I began to enjoy the routine. I’d found two cafes with good wifi and staff members who didn’t mind me overstaying my welcome. I managed to procure a library card by showing my foreign identification  to an employee and explaining all I wanted to do was sit for a few hours in a quiet space. ‘No problem,’ she said, ‘let’s fill out the forms online and I’ll get you a card. ‘ This led to a new routine, a new route, and a few great discoveries within the National Library of Romania. It led to more productive days, more relaxing evenings.

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Old lady alert: I even took a puzzle home from the family’s house and worked on it in the seatless living room. That means just me, a bright green Ikea rug, and 2000 pieces of tiny puzzle slowly came together day by day.

Old lady alert: I even crocheted two sparkling winter hats.

I could’ve easily jazzed it up and told you “Bucharest was lovely! I could’ve told you how I was invited to celebrate birthdays of two great kids, peddled a scooter across town on a lovely autumn day, got a library card, learned how to play Magic, made some cute caps, and met Jeff Kinney, who happily signed my copy of his newest Diary of a Wimpy Kid book (translated into Romanian). I could’ve told you how fun it was to live a life teetering between a twelve year old and a seventy year old and to have a place to call my own ‘home’ for a month. I could’ve also told you how a week before leaving, a neighbor more friendly than the last offered for me to use his internet and when the connection turned scratchy, came up with the most marvelous network name (see below).

Check out the name of my neighbor's new wifi network - "US Girl...." That's Kindness!.jpg

I could’ve told you these things and would’ve been telling the truth, just not the whole truth.

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So instead I tell you the whole truth. Bucharest was great, but I shed no tears when I boarded an early morning flight to Israel. Yes, Israel. Just a week before my big brother was supposed to come see me and this dazzling capital’s Christmas Market, we decided to celebrate the holidays elsewhere.

La revedere, Bucharest. You sure did me well. You sure taught me a lot. And no hard feelings do I hold for you. Because just look at these photographs. You really are a beautiful place. Just not my place.

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15 Comments

  1. You sure got some great shots and you’re leaving before the weather gets brutally cold. I’ll have to check out the library. Libraries are some of our favorite places to visit, no matter the country. It’s good to hear/read experiences of travel rooted in reality, the normal and mundane. Travel isn’t always just one grand adventure. You wrote about that so well. Happy travels in Israel!

    1. Absolutely do check out the library- it’s near Piata Unirii. Amazing thing is, they don’t allow books to be checked out! Still you can find many events there and a peaceful environment to work or study. Enjoy!

      1. Oh, that’s very interesting that they don’t check books out. Though I’m not surprised because many might not every be returned. It does sound, however, like a wonderful environment to study and read, particularly if it has high ceilings and historic architecture – my favorite.:-) Happy travels!

    1. Hey that’s great -Thank you for sharing as well! It is awesome as they prepare for Christmas, especially to see it all being put together. When were you there?

      1. It’s just been some weeks. We’ve been for a weekend in mid-November. The weather was lovely at this time (~ 15-20 degrees). Couldn’t really believe it 😀

        1. Argh, so close! There’s rarely anything better than meeting up with other bloggers (and followers of our blog) in cities around the world. Always amazing to have a chat about all the travel world. Next time, we’ll hopefully be more lucky 😉

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