Monday, 13 April 2015

Throw rotten tomatoes at ease: to me, Barcelona’s still overrated

Motto: ‘We spent our last night as a group in Dubrovnik, Croatia, which we reached after a long bus ride from Rozaje, Montenegro. The old city was gorgeous — shiny ramparts against a shimmering sea — but there was nothing to discover. The streets were too polished, the menus too refined. I turned on the faucet in my hotel room and flinched when the water came out hot. … Then I hoisted my pack and walked back into Albania.’ (Tim Neville – “Hiking Beyond Borders in the Balkans’)

This title may feel arrogant, cocky, and possibly glitzy in tone. Wait and don’t jump to conclusions. Then, let me explain.
First, what you need to know about me – an idea that could help you understand my perspective – is that I love enormous bustling cities as much as I love secluded picturesque villages. Yet, I live in a middle-sized town, which is my favourite in the whole world and I wouldn’t trade it for any other. Yes, a big pile of contradictions, I am aware of that.
However, I truly wanted to get to Barcelona someday, after having been 400 or so km away from it in 2000, during my first trip abroad, when this city was not part of the plan and my teachers went for Montpellier instead. I had heard so many fantastic things about this city from close friends, most of whom had explored it. As much as I wanted to go there, I avoided it for years and years in a row because I feared its commercial traits to spoil all the magic. In the end, destiny shuffled the cards and dealt them Catalonia-way and I was soon going to face the/my demons.
It was not the first time I had dismissed a city based on the same reasons. ‘Go to Prague’, I was told back in 2008, ‘it’s the most beautiful city in Europe’. Clearly, not according to my books – it felt too crowded, too golden, too unauthentic to me. The story goes that God made the world in 6 days and then he dedicated his last day to make Rio, which is sung as extraordinary and vibrant and perfect. Not to me. I’ve got at least a dozen giant cities on my list that should rightfully be described using those exact words. Salvador, for instance. Now, that’s a city to me!... I could state the same about Istanbul, Paris, or London. St. Petersburg or Tehran. They’re all complex, some of them have a certain commercial feel, but this is outweighed by the hidden dark sides or beautiful surprises that you find yourself discovering in them. Another big disappointment will always be Dubrovnik. The minute I get there, all I wish is to get away… fast. It’s too smart, too posh, too ‘everything goes where it should’, and too touristy for me.
Back to our sheep. I had heard about many people wishing to move to Barcelona, I had watched TV shows on that, yet the minute I set foot there I knew I wasn’t going to like it. Why do people go insane over this city, in the end [I have to specify here that during my last day there I walked for at least 25 km, so I must have seen something]…
The overcrowded streets? – I thought I’d go nuts on La Rambla and start beating up people.
The harbour area? ­– Said to be one of the most beautiful in the world, I’ve honestly seen at least 20 more beautiful harbours.
Gaudí’s art? ­- I admit it, this is gorgeous. And if you’re not really into art or visiting museums anymore, what then?...
[and the list could go on and on, but I think I made my point]
I was smilingly accused of not having found that vibe that makes everybody fall for this city.  The people were friendly, yes, the food and drinks were tasty. Something big was missing though. I only had three smiles on during the whole time I was there: watching some children play in the street, following some very cocky parrots march in the park, and taking shots of a very cute puppy licking my boyfriend’s face off.
Travelling is more to me than that. It’s first and foremost feeling that you’re the first person to explore a place [even though you clearly aren’t]. I’m used to having to work for my wows: being the first Romanian traveller in certain areas of the world [it happened to me somewhere between Yerevan and Areni, in Armenia], beating my brains about finding transportation to Iranian Kurdistan, or trying to enter Kosovo via Identity Cards. When you’re offered safety and an easy way to get your travels settled, it’s not attractive or challenging anymore – you’ve got everything you need (and more) on your plate.
I would have liked it ten years ago, I truly have. It’s like rafting down a 2-grade river when you know you’ve already mastered the 4-grade ones. And probably a chance less you’re giving other places that could please you more.
In the end, we should think twice before throwing stones at somebody simply because they do not like a place that common sense states that they should. We’ve got different travelling backgrounds, expectations, and requirements. Judging them is not the greatest method to find your way through, nor is generalising. It’s like I said two months ago – Sardinia is truly beautiful, but, after you’ve seen Scotland’s Western Isles, for instance, you realise that you’re surely much more attracted by the people and the food of this island than you are by its views. And you shouldn’t be blamed for feeling this way or feel like the class idiot because you failed finding something that may not even be there.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Ţara cu nr. 46

Cei ce-mi sunt apropiaţi ştiu probabil că marele meu vis este să explorez cel puţin 100 de ţări până la final. Nu mă tem de pericole şi răsturnări de situaţii pe care ministerele noastre de externe şi televiziunile încă le înfloresc excesiv, însă călătoresc cu o doză de realism (mică, ce-i drept), care balansează întrucâtva nebunia şi plăcerea de a risca, înnăscute, aşa am simţit-o mereu.
Andorra la Vella
Cu puţin noroc, 2015 mă va duce la jumătatea îndeplinirii acestui vis. Ceea ce mă aduce la subiectul acestui articol – cum, pe nepusă masă, a ajuns şi Andorra între aceste prime 50 de ţări. Planificat în mintea-mi a fost mereu să vizitez acest stătuleţ, cocoţat în Pirinei, între Spania şi Franţa. Şi mereu am ştiut că varianta cea mai simplă va fi fost din Barcelona. 3 ore cu autocarul. Floare la ureche pentru călătorii experimentaţi!
Cumva, dincolo de dorinţa crescândă de a scăpa de tumultul din Barcelona, care nu mi s-a potrivit şi nu m-a prins deloc [va urma], chiar făcându-mi-se dor de „mers la băi”, cum glumeam în 2012 când am ajuns în Reykjavik, atât de dezlânat ca oraş şi parcă neoferind mare lucru exploratorilor săi mi s-a părut capitala islandeză, şi de o destinaţie plină-ochi noaptea în baza taxelor-lipsă, a produselor felurite [chiar găseşti ABSOLUT ORICE acolo] şi a accesibilităţii, pân’ la urmă, Andorra a fost mai mult.
Un loc în care se mănâncă foarte bine şi la preţuri foarte rezonabile [spre deosebire de o altă destinaţie mignonă, să-i spunem, vizitată de mine în acest an – Corsica], în care localnicii sunt mai prietenoşi chiar şi decât în vecina Catalonie, în care începe să te fascineze felul în care norii se învârt în jurul piscurilor, în care curăţenia şi clădirile din piatră sunt la ele acasă, în care distanţele sunt minuscule [mergi 5-10 minute cu autobuzul şi eşti în centrul ţării], în care m-aş reîntoarce să dau nişte ture cu placa – având în vedere că sunt în curs de îmbunătăţire a stilului –, în care influenţele vecine se simt şi, cu toate acestea, spiritul naţional este foarte bine conturat.
Este ciudat, până la urmă, nu pot spune că m-am îndrăgostit iremediabil de acest loc, însă m-am regăsit acolo, m-a liniştit şi mi-a plăcut. Şi are ceva. Probabil că mai trebuie să treacă un timp ca să îmi dau seama exact ce.     

Friday, 27 March 2015

How I thought I’d travel to Bari and got to Barcelona instead

Bucharest OTP
Here follows a true story and my biggest ‘wow’ of the last trip.
Needless to say, we left home a bit late [Marcel usually oversleeps], but did have enough time to do some last-minute shopping, exchange some money, fuel the car, and go. We even had time to check out some gear in Bucharest and to have lunch. And then we parked the car where we usually do and we were at the airport.
-          Marcel, our flight isn’t displayed.
-          [thinking and looking at the panel and thinking] You’re right, it isn’t there.
I was used to seeing ‘flight no. X going from Y to Z ___ Cancelled’. Well, it was surely not our case. We went to the information desk.
-          Your flight has been cancelled. You should get to Wizz Air’s counter.
We did. There were quite a few people there trying to get help and solutions. I had however decided not to budge until I got one. A solution, I mean. Marcel was already starting to whine about having lost one precious day of holiday leave.
-          It isn’t over, baby. Not yet.
As I’d started to hear all sorts of rumours and stories [about an air strike in Southern Italy... how come they were still flying to Naples, then? or was Naples in the North? :D] from the people ahead of us in line, it felt somewhat strange to fly to Rome and make our way down to Bari. We’d lose a lot of time. Naples was surely an option, but seats were taken before we even got to the counter and had our say. I was however firm when I looked the Wizz Air attendant in the eye and told him:
-          Well, first of all, I WILL sue you. Secondly, you’ve ruined our trip. So, let’s see how you can fix it. Give us a plane ticket to somewhere we’ve never been before.
-          Do you still wish to travel to Italy?
-          Heck, no! We’re open to all possibilities, just make sure that we have a return ticket on Sunday evening.
-          In that case, we’ve got London...
-          Been there.
-          Madrid...
-          Been there.
-          Barcelona...
-          We’ll take that! [and I said it without even batting an eye]
-          Wait, let’s think about it. [Marcel’s always overthinking things.]
-          Hush, baby. We’ll go to Andorra. [=a long-awaited destination, to soon be Country no. 46]
He agreed. I guess I did say the magic word.
We had to call the Wizz Air hotline and ask them to get us off the return flight from Bari and then got registered onto the Barcelona one.
It was a pretty great shock and you can’t realise it until you’ve gone through it. I mean, I was dreaming about sun and sea, Arabic influences, Punic wars, pizza and pasta and gelato. I’d get some of these, but somewhere else, a place I had wished to explore for a long time, but I’d constantly postpone it because I feared it to be too commercial for me.
There were cancellations to be made (the prepaid car and the accommodations), all of them charging the full amount as penalty.
Well, the risks of travelling...
Onto some new ones! Consequently, we booked the accommodation for that evening in Barcelona [ha ha... you weren’t able to do that only a few hours ahead in 2010, let’s say] and realised with joy that I did have two Unanchor Barcelona guides on my Kindle. We started reading them and tried to set our minds to sun [hopefully], mountains, and sea, art and architecture, winter sports, and – of course! – sangria.

Upon my return, I tried to amiably settle things with Wizz Air, explaining that it was their fault, that they didn’t inform me – believe it or not, not even an e-mail or a text message was sent by them to let us know. Why? Because we were practically trapped – at the airport – into choosing something they’d offer and act upon their negotiation terms, and not ours. Of course, don’t think that they offered us snacks or water or credit to call and settle our things [which we were entitled to, according to the law]. Their Customer Service operators lied by telling us that they did send an e-mail and a text message to let us know on the cancellation of our flight, a day before. And they specified that the case was closed to them. Could be, but it isn’t for me. And, as a first step, I filed a complaint with ANPC [The National Authority for Consumers’ Protection]. I won’t fly them ever again! And I do hope that those of you reading this will think twice before purchasing tickets from this company that shows no respect for those keeping them operating – their clients.
The biggest thing that I have to be thankful for is that I am safe back home and able to see my loved ones, while continuing to enrich my world through exploration and by forcing my limits. The thought of the plane that crashed in France after departing from the same airport we did two days earlier is still haunting me. Innocent lives were sadly lost. 

Monday, 16 March 2015

Cu aripa-n vânt

„Minden porcikám fáj” zicea uneori bunica [=Mama a mea] atunci când se obosea prea mult într-o zi [între noi fie vorba, femeia aceasta a fost o super-femeie, tot nu am reuşit să înţeleg până în ziua de azi cum de reuşea să le finalizeze pe toate]. Nu o să spun că întocmai aşa mă simţeam eu sâmbătă seară, când, undeva după 20:30, am ajuns şi eu acasă... însă, departe de adrenalină, începi să simţi efectele, oboseala, să îţi vezi juliturile şi să înţelegi că ai învăţat... chiar foarte multe.
Ca să vă pun în temă, cum fac de obicei, eu şi cu Marcel am avut săptămâna trecută aniversarea noastră de 9 ani de nebunii. Şi cum altfel să o sărbătorim decât printr-o altă nebunie frumoasă? Vorbisem deja cu Robert de la Paramania, foarte prompt şi amabil [un semn bun!], şi pusesem ţara la cale. Între timp, am cooptat-o şi pe prietena noastră Andra, care aflase de surpriză şi parcă ar fi venit şi ea cu noi.
Cum a fost? Ne-am întâlnit la baza telefericului Bunloc şi de acolo am plecat cu maşinile înspre Dealul Ozun, pe un soare ce ne zâmbea cam strengăreşte, de început de primăvară. Am putut urca maşinile până-n vârf, apoi, cu priveliştile superbe şi halucinante parcă în juru-ne, ne-am apucat de treabă: am făcut „cunoştinţă” cu dealul, fiind puşi în temă cu privire la direcţia vântului, la curenţi, la obstacole. Şi am început, sub ochii răbdători ai lui Mihai, să facem gonflaje. Pare atât de uşor, este un pic mai greu însă. Şi chiar invers faţă de cum aş fi crezut: când eşti cu faţa la parapantă – „aripă” pentru cunoscători şi practicanţi –, o şi vezi şi ştii cum ar trebui să acţionezi pentru a putea, în cele din urmă, decola corect. Dar când eşti cu spatele, doar o simţi. Şi credeţi-mă, are o forţă fantastică. Adică, te ia, te târăşte, chiar trebuie să înveţi să o controlezi. Şi, na, eu am fost aşa, ca în prima zi – ba dădeam prea repede drumul A-urilor, ba prea târziu. Cred că încep să îţi intre toate astea în sistem, pe măsură ce îţi creşte şi experienţa.
A doua parte a zilei
Dintr-o dată, chiar dacă ploaia ne-a ocolit, vântul a început să bată în rafale şi ne-am văzut nevoiţi să schimbăm dealul. Am ajuns pe lângă Sf. Gheorghe, mai exact pe Dealul Zălan, numa’ bun pentru începători. Şi de acolo am încercat să facem şi primele zboruri. Care ne-au şi ieşit, tuturor. În nume propriu, trebuie să specific aici că am cam arat un pic dealul pentru că nu prea am fugit eu cât ar fi trebuit cu aripa în spate. Poate din cauza acelor 5 procente de teamă pe care le am înainte de a face orice lucru nou şi de care v-am tot povestit pe-aici? Şi a fost foarte distractiv să aud prin staţie, fix înainte de încercările mele, „Nu decolează nimeni, s-a intensificat vântul”.
Şi aşa ne-am petrecut noi o zi plină, de pe la miezul ei şi până când de-abia mai vedeam pe unde să călcăm, înconjuraţi de oameni cu un suflet tare frumos. Şi m-a încărcat. Şi mi-a plăcut.
Încă decantez informaţiile tehnice. :)