Day 38 July 8th, 2007 Barcelona/Madrid
The morning after the Running of the Bulls, we awoke very late and didn’t accomplish very much. We ate on La Rambla Street (all three of us) and then spent a few hours working at an internet café before going back to the hotel, grabbing our bags, and taking the metro to Barcelona’s airport. We split up with Ryan, who had been a great companion.
We barely made it on our flight, saved by the fact it was delayed. We landed in Madrid for a seven hour layover and did not leave the airport; Madrid looked like it was full on construction.
Day 39 July 9th, 2007 Madrid/Cluj-Napoca
At 3AM, our flight left Madrid for Cluj-Napoca, Romania, where our friend James met us at 7AM for our stay in Romania with him.
He took us all around Cluj, a very beautiful town of about 400,000 surrounded by rolling hills and farmland. The town shows signs of its 50 years of communist dominion with large identical apartments that look like projects. Each—of 15-20 stories—only took two months to complete, according to John who shared much of their history.
I took a six hour nap or so, and at night, James and I (Jake stayed) went for dinner and a few drinks with his Romanian friends. The bars were empty on a Monday, but very classy. We went home around 2AM.
Day 40 July 10th, 2007 Romanian countryside
We awoke at about 11AM, and were filled with a wonderful Romanian breakfast by James’s mom, which included a vegetable soup with bread, then chicken, then lamb. We were stuffed, but in Romania, if you don’t eat everything, it is an insult to the host, so we ate and ate. We ate fresh tomatoes as well. Every vegetable and fruit in Romania is cheap, fresh, and organic. It lacks big corporations and thus provides very high quality food.
We left Cluj and drove south to the mountains of Transylvania. The rolling hills turned into high mountains with lots of birch and pine trees, reminding me a great deal of home. We stayed that night in a cheap hotel called the Blue-Silver Hotel.
Day 41 July 11th, 2007 Dracula’s Castle; Romania (Sibiu)
We awoke late again and drove a few hours to Bran’s Castle (commonly referred to as Dracula’s Castle where Bram Stoker based his novel). It was much smaller than expected, as James had warned us. Still, the castle, well protected high on a hill in a small valley would have made a good lookout point.
The King was terribly evil, known as “Vlad the Impaler” often executing people at random, even for pleasure. Also, James told us Dracul or Drac means evil in Romanian, and when Bram Stoker visited the castle, he was inspired to write his legendary novel Dracula based on that King’s evil. That day we also visited Peles Castle.
Our driving went all through the mountain roads passing little village after little village. The word James used to describe it is “wild.” There are no highways, only one-lane roads, and as nobody important lives in those villages, repair often goes unheeded. For instance, we found at least three bridges collapsed, and were forced to drive in odd makeshift-roads around the disaster.
We passed many free roaming cows, horses, and lots of horse carriages carrying hay and villagers. We passed a famous hot water lake and the tall peaks of Romania. The weather was not good for visiting the mountains, but what we did see was beautiful. That night, we stayed in a hotel in Sibiu (300,000 people) and went with James’s Chicago roommate Louisa to a popular bar, after which we headed back to the hotel, and fell asleep to soccer.
Day 42 July 12th, 2007 Romania (Cluj)
We awoke and joined, Louisa, her mom, and her cousin in breakfast and in touring Sibiu’s famous churches, both Romanian Orthodox and Catholic. Sibiu is the 2007 European Cultural Capital (EU), and the place looked wonderful. We ate lots of excellent Romanian food, including sausages, tripe soup, meatball soup, Ursus beer, and my favorite, beef fillet (with mushrooms).We drove back to Cluj through the countryside, very beautiful as we entered the rolling hills again. That night we ate a lamb stew at James’s house and had a few drinks in some popular bars. Food and drinks are so cheap here, and the women so good looking. I will miss Romania…
Day 43 July 13th, 2007 Cluj/Paris
I awoke at 5AM and left Jake behind, catching an early flight from the small airport’s Carpat Air to Paris. I arrived at 10AM, found my hotel, and immediately felt right at home.
I had greatly missed Paris, it feels like my city. I did a lot that Friday, taking a disposable camera to my favorite place, the Arch de Triumphe, as well as some new places like the National Pantheon of Paris, which awes the commoner with massive columns, beautiful pictures, and statues of both religion and French history, as well as the mysterious crypts.
I also visited the wonderful business district with the giant LaDefense [I want to go back and visit the place more thoroughly], the Islamic mosque and Islamic museum (although I could not go inside due to closing], and my favorite restaurant on Rue St. Denis, a white-roofed Italian place, where I had a wonderful lasagna dinner, chocolate mousse, and Chatillon rosé red wine. I checked my email, made a wonderful call home to my mother, and headed back to my very nice Formula 1 hotel near the #4 line stop Porte dé Orleans. I slept wonderfully.
Day 44 July 14th, 2007 Paris
I awoke on my last full day in Europe around 10AM and hurried to the Arch de Triumphe for France’s Bastille Day (Independence Day). I have never seen so many people, and it was impossible to see the parade. [Note: 1st) Next time, bring a stool or ladder to stand on above the crowds (locals do it). 2nd) Show up at 8 or 9AM to get a spot where you can see something] I saw a few of the parade pieces including some tanks, overhead aircraft, and marching troops, but not as much as I’d hoped.
Next, I found my new hotel on Paris’ east side at the Porte d Bagnolet stop on the #3 line. I then proceeded to have something to eat, check my email for the last time at the expensive but favorite Milk internet chain on St. Denis, and then meet Jake at our cocktail spot at 9PM on Etienne Marcel.
We met, shared a drink, and headed to the hotel. Jake didn’t feel well, but I went to the river in the hopes of catching the fireworks over the Eiffel Tower. I caught only the last 30 seconds before the crowds carried me back to the metro and back to the hotel where I finally was able to chat with Mia. [Note: the fireworks start at 11PM, so be there early and don’t miss them!] At 2PM, I was fast asleep, my last night in Europe…
Day 45 July 15th, 2007 Paris/London/Chicago
Jake and I awoke at 7AM and rushed to Gare Du Nord (via Metro), barely catching our 8:04AM Eurostar Chunnel train to London, but we made it. In London, we had a coffee near Waterloo and Chinese food down by the river. There I bought the ridiculous tourist hat Joey wears on “Friends” and Jake and I snapped off a few pictures before taking the Underground to Paddington, the Heathrow Express, and then grabbing Air India Flight 125 at 4PM to Chicago.
It all happened too fast; my time here. I love Paris, I love London, and I never had a chance to say goodbye to either, but I don’t think I have to; I know I’ll be back. I promise I will return here, I feel that I must. It was a wonderful time in Europe.