Of the 22 Fulbright grantees in Romania, nine of us reunited in Bran this past weekend to celebrate Halloween. Best know for its castle, Bran is almost in the center of the country, which meant that we all were able to arrive in 3-6 hours by train, bus, and/or automobile. The town is tiny and completely caters to tourists coming in search of Dracula and other spooky folklore associated with Transylvania, thus Halloween is a festive time but probably not the best if you really want to see and savor the castle.
I took the train up late Thursday afternoon from Bucharest to Braşov, a city of a quarter million that certainly has earned its reputation as a Romanian must-see. The fastest train takes appr. 2 ½ hours and costs less than $20 in first class, which is more than double that of second class but well worth it given the larger seats and reduced congestion. My carriage was filled with other tourists including numerous English speakers. For me, “touristy” usually isn’t a positive, but it was inevitable this weekend, and Braşov certainly was worth the visit, given my penchant for history and Old World charm.
On Friday afternoon, I took the public bus from Braşov to Bran: just $2 but standing most of the time on an overfilled, steamy bus. Still, I met two Indian-Canadians as well as a brother-sister duo from Greece day tripping to Bran from Bucharest and already dreading the return. I letted a spacious studio just outside the town: large and comfortable with fireplace and balcony facing the castle. For several hours each night, our dispersed Fulbright crowd convened here for some much needed fellowship and commiseration.
Although I loved visiting both cities and enjoyed the beautiful Carpathian mountains, I know that the real reason and value of this trip was to spend time with colleagues, who are experiencing many of the same joys and frustrations—and there are plenty of both. Bran was, for us, a much needed support group opportunity. Already there is talk of a Thanksgiving gathering, and we will have another (required) meeting in Bucharest is early December.
My next scheduled personal (solo) trip is mid-November to Kyiv, the capital of the Ukraine.