Romania Student Blogs
This summer, students registered in HST 301: Suffering and
Forgiveness, are traveling to Romania with their instructor, Octavian
Gabor. They will be posting their travel blog on this page. Follow them
in their adventure! More photos of their trip can be viewed here.
August 4, 2015
Today was a day to remember. After leaving Fagaras, we had the chance to visit with Ioana's family. We met her mother, father, and niece. Also, we met with her grandmother. This is important because her husband was the one who hid in the Fagaras Mountains during communism. Ioana's whole family was welcoming. They offered refreshments and made us feel like we were a part of their family. The grandmother only spoke Romanian. I did not understand what she was telling me, so I just held her hand in mine and smiled politely. I could tell she was a very sweet lady. Her house was beautiful! The biggest item that caught my eye was the grape vines.
My final thoughts about this entire trip: wow. Never in my years did I think I would have the chance to travel to Europe. I am proud to say I spent roughly two weeks studying communism and the European culture. Along the way I met some of the most prideful, memorable, purist human beings. This is a trip I will never forget. Having the chance to listen to people's stories about the communist regime was incredible. They are all heroes in my book. I have learned that the European culture is slightly different from American culture. For example, in the European culture people do not use washcloths, they only drink from bottle water (the majority of the time), their food is more natural and is made with less fructose, and they prefer to have the minimum air conditioning. There is so much more that I cannot even explain at this time. Within the first few days of living here in Romania, I started to adapt to living without the items that I am used to having back in the States. One should not complain about not having them, but rather adapt to the place's culture and continue to live in the present. I will say that I am one hundred percent more thankful for these items than I was ever before.
We are all stars in the constellations. If one is dead, alive, or in different countries, we are still all connected somehow in time. "Beauty of the world is given by our personal constellations." We create our own beauty with our own hands. I believe each one of us students created our own beauty with this trip by the way we felt, saw, and experienced Romania.
This is the final blog for the quick trip to Romania. I never knew that in 12 days I would learn so much about a culture and about myself. It is one thing to learn about how a country and different communities suffered under the rule of communism, but actually seeing the aftermath really brings it all together. This last day of events, we were lucky enough to meet a very important woman that lived during communism. She is the grandmother of Ioana Hasu, Eugenia Comanici. Her husband, Ioana's grandfather, was one of the founders of the groups that fought against the Communist rule. We were told of the struggles that her family was plagued with and had to suffer through until the collapse of the regime in 1989.
The Hasu family suffered more than I can understand. The patriarch of the family had to flee so he would not be killed without putting up a fight. He, his brother, and several others lived in the mountains for seven years until they were captured and sent to various prisons and executed shortly after. This small group was not the only group of fighters against communism. Numbers vary up to 200 groups fighting in the mountains. These men depended on one another and many women back in their villages. This is what inspired me so much about Ioana's grandmother. She is a stoic woman that never lost faith; she believed God would help her in her struggling time. During the time when her husband was in the mountains, she had two small children to care for and protect. She was arrested two times to be tortured, beaten, and questioned to give up her husband. The government forced her to divorce him in the hope that this would cause him to come back home, but through all of this her grandmother stayed strong and faithful to her husband.
It is an extremely sad story to hear how much pain and suffering this family and whole country had to endure. It allows me to remember that keeping faith in my beliefs and remaining focused can get me through almost any struggle. I feel so thankful to have met such a strong woman that still does all she can for others, even in her older age. She is struggling to get around her home, but will still offer her seat to another person. She is truly inspiring.
Our trip in Romania has been an eye opening experience in many ways. I have learned valuable history. During our time in Romania we have visited many memorials and significant places. For a suffering and forgiveness class, I believe this is the most memorable experience you can have. It will stay with me forever. We truly learned about the suffering that many generations have gone through. When walking through the Jilava communist prison where many people were beaten and tortured for years, I felt empathy for the prisoners and their families in a way that is not possible from reading about it in a book. We had a prison survivor come to talk to us at Jilava. As we walked through the prison cells and solitary confinement areas, Mr. Octav Bjoza pointed out what happened to him and so many others. I am extremely grateful for this experience. We learned about Father George Calciu, who was a central piece of communist history. He survived the Pitesti communist prison and struggled with his faith. He became an informant after being tortured, but then came back from it and slowly healed.
There was one common theme that kept coming up during our trip that was the most surprising of all. This was forgiveness. Everyone we talked to seemed to have a strong sense of faith and had forgiven. Not one single person we experienced was bitter or angry.
What happened in Romania was injustice. The communist regime took over and had to break apart connections and ties between families to first alienate individuals. By doing this, they came to houses and abducted people and put them in communist prisons like Jilava and Pitesti. Many times the people were not given any explanation or reasoning for what was happening. Families were no longer able to contact them. In prisons, people were beaten, tortured, and treated inhumanely.
I am so thankful I got to be a part of this trip. It was an eye opening experience; I learned about history, traveling, and even more about myself.
Well, this is our final blog for our trip to Romania. It is definitely bittersweet saying goodbye to this place, but I am ready to see the USA. I am super glad that I decided to take this class and have this experience. It is not everyday that someone would get the opportunity to visit Romania. I would have to say that my favorite part of the trip was getting to know the other girls and hiking up the Fagaras Mountains. I will never forget that hike or the beautiful scenery. Before this trip I did not picture Transylvania as being such a beautiful, untouched place.
On our last day when we left Sambata de Sus, we took a van back to Bucharest, but on the way we stopped at Bran Castle, also known as Dracula's castle. Even before we left for this trip to Romania I was very excited to see this castle just because of the legend behind it. Unfortunately when we got to the town of Bran, there didn't seem to be any running water for the restrooms and the whole place was crowded. Apparently tourism has taken over there, and more and more people are wanting to see Dracula's castle. Thankfully Tavi, being the awesome teacher that he is, waited in line for all of us so we could do some more shopping. Once we finally made it into the castle, up an incredibly steep driveway of course, we could see what an amazing view the castle had of the town of Bran, and how this location high on a hillside would benefit Dracula while he was trying to defend it against the enemy.
We were on somewhat of a time crunch, so we were unable to spend a lot of time in Bran before we needed to be back in Bucharest to the Hotel Opera. I will say, going back to the first hotel was kind of like going home in a sense. I know all of us were excited to have Wi-Fi in our rooms again! Together the girls and I all went to dinner at Trattoria Don Vito's before we packed our bags to say goodbye to Romania. I am so glad we had such an awesome teacher and great group of girls to share this once in a lifetime opportunity while at Methodist College.
Wow. Today was our last full day here in beautiful Romania. We left Fagaras early this morning, around ten o'clock. We finally got to tour the famous Dracula's castle in Bran, Romania. It took us around an hour to drive from Fagaras to Bran. Tavi had visited Dracula's castle before, and he was shocked to see that there was a huge line for tickets. I did not know that Bran was such a tourist city; once we parked, I saw tons of souvenir shops and tourist info stands. There were little shops with shirts and food and various gift all along the streets heading up to Dracula's castle; they reminded me a lot of walking up to Peles castle, with so many different gifts to buy.
Tavi stayed in line while we all walked around to shop or get food. On that day all the restaurants and little shops did not have bathrooms with running water available. We probably tried four different places to see if they had restrooms available, but no one did. Then, I went into a tourist information building to ask where one was, and they directed me to the building next door. So I go in thinking "This is easy. Why didn't I find this on my own?" When I get to the building, there are people waiting in line for something. I could not tell what when I first got there, but I walked in front of them, and asked where a restroom was. The gentleman at a desk proceeded to tell me that it was upstairs. So I walked up the stairs, and the lighting in the room changed. There were black lights going, a coffin on my left, scary music playing. I was so confused and did not know what to think. I walked a little further and finally found the bathroom to my left. As I was opening the door this person dressed up in a monster costume jumped out at me and said, "Are you finding everything okay?" I was so startled because I was not expecting that and I was by myself. Apparently I was in the middle of a haunted house and did not even realize it. So that was my fun little adventure that I got by myself for the day.
I then found the rest of the girls and met Tavi up at the entrance to the castle. It was a huge incline to walk up to the castle. We all were very sore from the previous day's hiking. We then entered the castle, where I was taken away. Dracula's castle is much more open than I pictured, and the hallways were very closed-in and tiny. Walking through, it felt like a never-ending maze because it was such a small space walking. Attached is a picture in a hallway looking out to the other side of the castle.
I was so happy we got to experience the infamous Dracula's castle, because I have heard of it even as a little girl.
I cannot believe this is our last night here in Romania. I have learned so much about the culture, about how communism affected this amazing country and so many people alive today. I have met some of the most amazing people and I hope to stay friends with them. I will forever keep the memories from this trip. I think between all eight of us, we have taken over a thousand pictures. If you ever have the chance to visit Romania, I would recommend it in a heartbeat; pictures do not even do it justice, especially the mountains. Thank you, Tavi, so much for putting up with us for almost two weeks; you have been the most generous, most fun, and selfless teacher ever, and I will forever be grateful for this incredible opportunity.
On our last full day in Romania, instead of taking the train back to Bucharest for the night, we rented a van. We got a van so we would be able to visit the infamous Bran Castle, also known as Dracula's castle. Dracula is the main icon for Transylvania known by Americans. Most Americans don't know anything about Romania apart from Dracula. Unfortunately Dracula is not a legitimate part of Romania's history. The character was inspired by the historic ruler, Vlad Dracul, also known as Vlad Tepes. Another name he is commonly referred by is Vlad the Impaler, which I believe is the translation of Tepes. He was called Vlad the Impaler because he would impale Turkish soldiers who tried to over-take his castle in the 15th century. He would impale the bodies then display them all around so others would be afraid to storm his castle.
We toured his castle today, which was the busiest place we went to in Romania. It was a very large tourist attraction, and felt somewhat like an amusement park. The line to get tickets was very long, but we waited in order to be able to see the castle. Since we were crunched on time by the wait, we did not have a guided tour. We walked through the castle, but we unfortunately did not have enough time to have Tavi read all the information on each room. There were hundreds of small rooms randomly placed like a maze throughout his castle, which I found extremely fun and confusing. It was an extremely neat castle to visit, and I would suggest people visit this place. Unfortunately it was very busy and hard to stop and read information with the heavy traffic flow. In all, I enjoyed seeing such a historical Romanian landmark.
And this is the last blog of the trip! It has definitely been an amazing trip with a great group of people; I could not have asked for a better group and I would not have changed the trip in any ways. The last day of our trip was spent leaving the mountains. We traveled in a large van where we all had to squeeze together. The van had one window and it was VERY hot. After an hour or so we arrived at "Dracula's" castle. While Tavi waited in line, we all walked around and looked at the outdoor shops and the tourist items. Once we got inside we quickly toured the castle. We kind of wanted to make it back to Bucharest in order to eat at the Italian restaurant. Once on the road again, we had another 3 hour drive to Bucharest. At the hotel we quickly went and freshened up and then went to dinner. After dinner we all went back to the hotel and started packing, since we had to be up and leaving the hotel by 4:30 am.
Overall the trip was amazing, I have learned many things and met amazing people that I would not have been able to do if it weren't for the trip. Just some of the people that had an influence on us students were obviously Tavi (our teacher), Ioana (a friend of Tavi's, also a historian); Octav Bjoza, a former political detainee; Ana Blandiana and Romulus Rusan, who were the ones who met with us at the Sighet Memorial; and finally Ioana's grandmother, who was one of many women affected by communism.
These people shared their personal stories with us, which gave us direct insight into something that we would have never learned about if we had not come to Romania. What we learned is not written in books.
August 3, 2015
August 2, 2015
Talk about a fun afternoon. Today was the first full day at the new
hotel at Sambata de Sus, and it was a beautiful place to be. We are
surrounded with trees, creeks, and fresh air from the mountains. The
adventures from today included visiting the Fagaras Fortress and
learning of the history of the town.
I learned of many trials and tribulations that the town of Fagaras
had to go through, but it somehow always made it through. Seeing how the
community has come back together after such a hard time in history made
me think about how the connections have come back together in families.
Our group was fortunate to meet the family of our wonderful instructor
and see how wonderful these ties are. His family has been more than
accommodating for our group. It has made the experience that much more
We have learned that the culture of Romania is very independent; if
you want something done by a certain time, then you would have to do it
yourself. This is not in a bad way; it is just how the service is here.
In America, it seems that people are more sensitive or cater to the
needs of the guest; here they will expect you to do your part. The best
example is the checks after dinner. If you go with a large group, then
you are expected to pay all at once and figure your own part out later.
The servers will not give you the bill unless you tell them you are
ready to leave. These are just some of the differences that have stuck
out to me. The positive to this is that the service persons do not hover
There are definitely some cultural differences that Romania has and
that I would like to see change in America, like their straightforward
way of communication. It takes the around-about way of talking out and
gets straight to the point. It has been fun learning these small
differences in such a small amount of time!
Today I experienced the peacefulness of the mountains, and it is
amazing! One of the best parts about being here in Romania is the food.
Everything here is close to its natural state. For breakfast people eat
tomatoes, olives, bread, fruit, and cheeses. In the US everything is
pasteurized and filled with hormones and sugar. Here, you can taste food
in its natural state and I love that. Especially the tomatoes- they are
amazing! You can also get foods like they have in the US. Last night I
had a grilled chicken breast, rice pilaf, and veggies. Even this simple
meal was much more natural.
Where we are staying is tucked back in the mountains, so we walk to
the monastery and hotel lobby through the woods. The air here is even
fresher. People also seem to be very in touch with themselves, less
overwhelmed by life. Maybe that is because of their strong faith. It
probably gives them peace knowing they can pray and are being led by
God. Religion seems to unite people here. It is the one thing that
everyone has in common, and people take it very seriously. The Liturgy
in the monastery was packed full before it even started at 10:00 AM
today. People were filing in. People stand during the service, too,
which is different from the churches I have been to. The monastery is
also gorgeous! It has flowers planted all along a paved road going up to
the church. There are tombs, crosses, and candles. It is not like the
church where I am from. Since the service lasts hours, you can come and
go. You do not have to stay the whole time. People often get up and walk
outside or go light a candle for their loved ones.
Fagaras was a nice change from being in Bucharest. The fortress was
very medieval looking. It was a different type of architecture with lots
We started the day at the church service at the monastery. This time
around we walked through the monastery. I noticed that the cemetery is
different here than it is in the States. They have a burial place above
ground. There are tombstones that are standing crosses rather than
rectangle tombstones. Most of the tombstones had the people's picture
present on them. The graveyard was interesting. There was a spot where
one could light a candle for a prayer of the living or dead. I am still
amazed by Orthodox Christianity. It makes me want to read and speak to
more people who are involved with this religion.
We visited the Fagaras Fortress. I felt like I was in a medieval era.
The tour guide told us that a few films were actually filmed in that
fortress. Of course, there were a few secret staircases that led us into
bigger rooms. There was a cool one that led us into a circular room.
Here in this room people were tortured. Up above, the common people
could stand and watch the torture happen. It looked like a scene where
people were thrown into a room and lions or tigers were let loose to
kill them. I did get a spooky feeling from being in there.
The walls in the fortress were mostly upgraded with plaster. They did
keep some spaces on the walls in their original form. For example,
there was a spot with Romanian writing and a religious cross, which were
done by the inmates during communism. We also found out that the
fortress was used as a prison during communism. The prison did not exist
on paper, so it legally did not exist. I was told that the prison was
not as intense as Jilava. The fortress had numerous paintings and
artifacts that were interesting to look and read about. I recommend
seeing it if you ever visit Fagaras, Romania.
Today was Sunday here in Romania so, as we did last Sunday, we went
to a Christian Orthodox church. The difference between this weekend and
last weekend was that this time we went to the monastery to experience
their service. They have continual services from eight until noon. At
the monastery there were callings for church. The first call to church
was when the monks would start to hit wood together, followed by the
ringing of the church bells. It was similar to the previous church in
that it was casual enough for people to come and go during the service
or sit outside.
We went into the service for a few minutes towards the front to see
how the service was performed. There were monks sitting on each side of
the wall at the front, and I could see the area the priest was allowed
to go in was very large, unlike other churches where the area is only
large enough for an altar. We then left and Tavi showed us around the
monastery. We saw from the outside the location where the monks would
sleep, as well as their outdoor hallways. No matter where we were in the
monastery the sermon could be heard through speakers.
After we walked around the entire monastery we went to the cemetery
where monks, priests, and other people from the community were buried. I
thought this was interesting because it was very different from how
cemeteries are in America. First off, it is not just the headstone that
sticks out of the ground, but there is a whole rectangular box that is
built from the ground up behind it. This rectangular area is large
enough for a casket to be placed in. On top is a whole flowerbed where
people cannot only set flowers, but also actually plant them. Some of
the graves were large enough for more than one person; this is because
some of the tombs were for families. It was odd to me, though not
uncommon in the states, that people who were not yet dead, had their
graves all set up and filled out with a picture of them.
Overall the monastery is one of the most gorgeous and holy places I
have ever been. If anyone ever gets a chance to visit one, it is
extremely intriguing and enlightening to observe.
Today is day 9 of our adventure in Romania. After breakfast we
visited the monastery for church service before we headed to the town of
Fagaras to visit the fortress. The fortress is considered to have
never been concurred before, and fortunately is still standing to this
day. It was so beautiful. We had a tour guide that took us through the
fortress, since it now sits as a museum. It would be easy to get lost
with all of the corridors and secret passageways. The museum was simple
but was nicely done with minimum exhibits in each room, so not only
could you enjoy the architecture but you could see the artwork as well.
Although this structure was not built as a prison, it was used for
that purpose during communism during the 40's, 50's, and 60's. The
fortress was very large though, with many rooms and passageways, and I'm
pretty sure that if I was left alone there I would get lost. It is just
unbelievable that people continued to add onto the structure for 300
After the tour through the fortress Tavi took us to lunch with his
father, younger brother, and son. It was really nice to meet some of
Tavi's family and see what a day in the life of a Romanian typically is.
Tavi's father and brother are so very nice and welcoming. They treated
us to pizza at a restaurant that was on a lake next to a water park.
After lunch we headed back to the hotel to check out the pool and sauna.
It was somewhat late so we did not get much time to swim, but it was
still nice. Tomorrow we will hike up the mountain, which I am super
Today, I woke up at 7:00 and had breakfast at our hotel in Sambata de
Sus. We then went to a traditional Orthodox Church service. There were
birds flying everywhere. When we walked in, the women were on the left,
and the men were on the right. People were singing hymns when we got
into the monastery. Women were dressed in long skirts to their knees and
long shirts. Some wore headpieces, and some did not. Being around the
monastery's worship made me think about my church back home. One
difference I noticed was that we had pews that are in rows at our
church, and at the monastery they all stand. Another thing I noticed was
that they make the cross symbol the opposite way Catholics do.
Catholics go from left to right. When we drove to the monastery, our
drivers made the cross gesture starting on the right. I am not Catholic,
but I just knew automatically that was different in our culture. After
church service, we went shopping to little shops that were along the
road. I got a few presents for people and noticed they had authentic
women's shirts. Romanian authentic shirts are white with some sort of
pattern on them, and I am hoping I can buy one before we leave Fagaras
After the monastery, we went to a late lunch, or dinner in Fagaras.
We got to walk around and had a nice dinner at a public waterpark. We got
to meet Tavi's brother and father. I sat at a table with Tavi's
brother, Tony. He was very outgoing and made me feel at home in Fagaras.
So far I love Fagaras, and cannot wait to hike in the mountains
And today is day 9!! Today began with breakfast at 9:30. My favorite
thing was the fried sausages and the watermelon. The watermelon was the
best I've ever had: very fresh and juicy. We then walked to the
monastery where we attended the service (we only stayed for maybe 5
minutes). It was beautiful. The front of church was filled monks, then
it faded into a sea of men and women, with the men on the right and
women on the left. Once again what we saw of the service was beautiful.
We then went shopping (again, of course) where I bought three small
bowls that can be used to hold jewelry.
The next part of our day was spent visiting the fortress of Fagaras.
At the fortress we saw several art exhibits from summer school students;
the paintings were very beautiful. Other things we saw at the fortress
were the room where they kept all the riches, the princess's room.
One thing I found interesting was the fact that the fortress was also
a communist prison. In this prison, of course, people were tortured. We
went into a tower where some tortures were portrayed in a picture. It
included being suspended by the hand while having two weights hung off
of the toes.
After the fortress we went to lunch, where we had pizza. It was the
best pizza I have ever had in my life (and I really don't like pizza at
home, unless it is Monical's). After lunch we ventured back to our hotel
where we had class. After class we had French fries at the restaurant.
We then went to the Sauna and the pool to relax. The walk home with the
girls was probably the most fun ever!
August 1, 2015
After spending a week in Bucharest, we expanded our horizons in
Romania and took the train to stay near the town of Fagaras, where our
instructor is from. It was a special ride from the train to our hotel,
because we got to see the house where Tavi grew up, and where his
parents still currently live. The drive was also unique because we kept
getting closer and closer to the mountains, which made them get more
beautiful as we were able to see more of their detail. As I write this I
am currently on our balcony where we can see multiple peaks around us
filled to the top with willow leaved trees, as well as hear rushing
water from the creeks around us. We are within the woods at the bottom
of the mountain, so it feels like we are hiking anytime we walk to
another building. It is like camping, but with nice rooms.
The grounds we are on are also used for camping. There are lots of
campers around the hotel, as well. Along with campers, there is also a
monastery on the grounds, which we visited later in the evening after
dinner. The monastery is a tourist attraction for many people because it
is filled with history. A lot of the people staying in the surrounding
hotels are here to visit the monastery. Father Arsenie Boca who painted
the picture with Mary with Jesus in prison clothes, which we have been
discussing, lived at the monastery. It is also the site where a cross
with all the names of the people who fought in the mountains is placed.
The monastery looked like a national geographic photo. You enter
through an archway with huge gates where you walk down a path filled
with trees and rose bushes. At the end of the path you can see the
monastery. All beyond the monastery are mountains with mist surrounding
them. It is one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever seen, and I am
very excited to go back and see what it looks like in the early morning.
People with different cultural backgrounds often see the same things
very differently. We got a taste of this today. We had purchased our
train tickets previously. When we boarded the train we realized that
some seat numbers were missing. For example, there was no seat number
12. It was replaced with a 16. This was very confusing because both
seats 12 and 16 should have been in the same compartment, but number 12,
which was printed on the ticket, was not there. So when the person with
seat 16 came, she asked us to move. In the US, people seem to be very
structured and organized (sometimes too much).
Also, when we got to the hotel they only had us reserved for one
night instead of three, and the rooms were not cleaned and ready. This
was not an issue, but I could see how people with very strict,
structured personalities could have a difficult time traveling in some
places. I think it has to do with the fact that everyone seems to be on a
different schedule here. If you need something, you go to get it. In
the US some things are the same, but restaurants differ also in their
attentiveness to customers. Also, the WiFi does not work in the hotel
rooms. It only works in the lobby of the building we are in, called
Popas. This is really not a problem, either, but in the US I could see
people becoming irate from little details like these. It reminds you to
be laid back and not to worry about every single detail like we do in
the States. The hotel we are now is back in the mountains. It is
There is something different about the air and the way it feels. It
feels less "busy" and more relaxing. I am excited to explore outside the
hotel and hike on the mountains. From our building to the main hotel
building, you can walk down a path or through the woods. We walked
through the woods tonight and it reminds me of Colorado, with the high
trees and open space. Hopefully we don't see any bears in the woods on
the way to breakfast!
Today is day 8! First off, let me begin by saying that the mountains here are BEAUTIFUL!!
We began today with taking the train four hours to Fagaras. While on
the train, we got to experience several amazing views. My favorite thing
about the views was being down in the valley and looking up at all the
villages with their red clay roofs. I also thought that the several
patches of Black Eyed Susan's scattered across the prairies were
Once we made it to Fagaras, we were met by two cars that drove us
through several small towns. At the hotel we had to wait for our rooms
to be ready so we sat outside and talked; at this time, Alex and I found
a stream behind the hotel.
After our rooms were ready and we placed our luggage in them, we went
for dinner. I had Gordon Blue, which was very delicious. Then we walked
to the monastery that was nearby. The first thing we did was walk
around the outside of the monastery where we saw the cross that was set
up as a memorial to the people that fought in the mountains (we learned
about this yesterday in class).
We then walked up to a small pond where you could see the fish
swimming near the surface. The mountains were foggy at the top. This
image was just indescribable; not only were you seeing this beautiful
place, but you were breathing in the fresh mountain air. We then walked
inside the beautiful monastery; the walls and ceilings were covered
Before heading back to our hotel, we walked along the shops near the
monastery, where we got Gogosi (similar to donuts), which were very
Today is starting off with just a few speed bumps. First, one of my
fellow classmates had some luggage that did not want to cooperate; then
when we got on the train, some seats just did not exist. Traveling in a
group of nine is not going to be easy, but we are learning to be more
efficient. I learned that when purchasing tickets in advance, they
sometimes sell seats that are not always there. The numbering on the
seats got changed or misnumbered at some point, but this was not changed
in the system. The solution to this was to just have people from our
group stand. Tavi, being as noble as he is, would not allow any of the
students to stand, so Ioana and he stood for the whole four hour train
It is not always a bad thing, having some bumps on the road while
traveling together. It allowed us to come together and help fellow
students and realize that there could be far worse things that could
have happened. I have noticed that some trips can get rough when people
do not get along the whole time, but I feel very fortunate to have been
with a great group of people. I just think about how we need to be as
nurses and come together to help one another. These lessons that we will
learn on this trip will become useful in our future careers, and remind
us that we can handle much more than we think. Focusing on some of the
text we read for this class, it helps to remind me that remembering to
stay humble will allow for me to care for others in a loving and
respectful way. Taking these lessons home will strengthen me in times
when I am not sure I could handle much more. The Romanian culture shows
that it is okay to be independent and strong on your own, but to come
together when in need.
On our 8th day here in Romania, we traveled to the city of Fagaras.
We took the subway from Bucharest. From there we waited at the train
station. We finally got settled on the train, and I read the remaining
reading assignment in our Father George Calciu book. We left around
10:00am, and it took us about four hours to get to Fagaras, with
multiple stops in between. The train reminded me of the Metra in
Chicago, but the only difference was that here in Romania, they did not
announce the next stop. I thought this was interesting because it would
be very easy to miss your stop. When we finally arrived in Fagaras
around 2:00, two people waited for us. From there, we drove for roughly
35 minutes, heading to our hotel. On the way, we got to go through
Fagaras. There were many pretty houses along the way, just as in the
After we arrived at our hotel, we got settled into our rooms and
went to dinner as a group. The restaurant was beautiful. There was a big
open space filled with dinner tables and in the background were the
After dinner, we visited an orthodox monastery. This was incredible.
The grounds were kept up so beautifully and there were ponds with
fishes. The roof of the monastery really stuck out to me, because the
amount of detail was amazing. There were lots of little creeks on the
way to the monastery. Even the benches were detailed so precisely.
Finally getting to another city feels refreshing, and I cannot wait to
see what Fagaras has in store for us.
Well, today is Saturday in Romania and day 8 of our trip. We left
Bucharest this morning and headed towards the mountains to our next
hotel. Needless to say, today did not go very well for me traveling
wise. We left Hotel Opera to head to the subway that took us to the
train station. Like always, I packed too much stuff for our 3-day stay
at Pensiunea Miruna, and while we were walking to the subways, luggage
in tow, the wheel on my suitcase broke. My typical luck, so this
resulted in me carrying my carry-on luggage the rest of the way to the
subway, on the train, and to the hotel. Luckily some of the girls on the
trip helped me carry my super heavy bag. Mind you, I did not pack
lightly. So not only did I have a rolling suitcase with a broken wheel,
but I also discovered while waiting for the subway that my small
backpack had a giant hole in it and all of my stuff was about to fall
out. Luckily there was a stand at the next subway station that sold
luggage and backpacks, so I was able to buy a new one!
The good news is that our hotel in the mountains is amazing! Romania
is such a beautiful place, and I am so glad that Tavi decided to bring
us here. After dinner at the hotel we stopped by the monastery where we
will be seeing the service tomorrow. The property the monastery sits on
has an amazing view of the mountains and the gardens there are so well
maintained. Even though I had an awful day dealing with all of my
luggage breaking, I'm glad to be in such a beautiful place.
The whole day was spent traveling. First we took the subway, and then
we took the train to Fagaras. From Fagaras we went to Sambata by car.
Sambata is where we will be staying for a few nights. Fagaras and
Sambata are both more beautiful and cleaner than Bucharest. I prefer
staying in these two towns rather than Bucharest, because Bucharest is
too much of a city. Sambata is the countryside of Romania. One can see
rolling hills of mountains when traveling into the town. The area we are
staying is popular for tourists. A group of us visited the monastery.
Before actually arriving at the monastery, there were many little
outdoor one-stop-shops. We then traveled up a single road that lead to
the monastery. The road was lined with flowers and bushes. It honestly
looked like a picture from a magazine.
The area was being remodeled and more landscape was being added to
the yard. Once inside the monastery, there were buildings that were
designed in a circle, more or less. The basic idea of this structure is
the buildings are like the fence of the monastery.
I saw my first monk today. It was interesting to see how he
interacted with the common people. The call of service was done by
hitting wooden blocks for a few minutes. The inside of the church was
incredible. The paintings would amaze anyone and everyone.
I have concluded that Orthodox Christianity is the most serious,
intense religion I have witnessed. It is traditional and formal. More or
less with the formality. Religion is huge in Romania. I like this idea
and wish the States were more accepting and serious about this topic.
Even if one is not a religious being, visiting the monastery would be a
great cultural experience. Tomorrow we will be attending the monastery
again for a morning service.
July 31, 2015
Today I have learned that I really enjoy Traditional Romanian
culture. We went to the Peasant Museum. I was surprised to see
traditional Romanian clothes. Considering they are all hand made, I
could not imagine knitting and crocheting all of the intricate patterns.
All of the pottery and bowls were so beautiful! I found lots of
antique looking pieces; it is so much better since this is authentic,
handmade crafts. I like that there is a museum like the one we visited,
because it seems that the peasants made up most of Romania. They lived
very simply. The thing I can learn from this is that every object has a
use if you really think about it. For example, they do not throw
everything away and buy new, as we do in the US in modern times. People
found uses for everything, especially in the example of the
grandmother's home in the museum.
Growing up this way would teach people to be selfless and to remember
to only keep what they need. We can all learn from this. I almost felt
guilty after being in the museum and seeing how they make use of old
cans, wrappers, anything they have. They did what they had to do to get
by. It was eye opening to see how people spent so much of their time
just surviving. They need clothes to wear so they spend hours making
dresses and shoes. They need food to eat, so people hunt and eat smaller
portions. Hobbies of the women would be more traditional, like sewing,
cooking, cleaning, or praying. Today the US is filled with technology. I
think we have lost a lot of our ancestry. People are not always eager
to learn about their culture and their history because they are too
soaked up in their own lives. Back in those times, you had to depend on
family and that is what bonded them so much.
I am glad that on this trip we get to see both sides of the
Romanian world. For example, we toured the house of the people which had
gigantic, elegant ceilings and floors. But we also got to see pottery
and table cloths made from generations with love. I love that we can see
all ends of the spectrum.
I also like how Ioana has brought a much more personal side to the
table for us to learn about. We learned about her grandfather and how
his brother, so her uncle, helped start the anti-communist movement in
the mountains. We learned about their families and how they were
literally torn apart. The women were at peace and content with their
lives. This is also something we can learn from. Everyone could have a
"poor me" attitude, and it is important to remind ourselves of real
suffering and forgiveness. We have now seen the whole spectrum of
physical suffering and psychological sufferings and have learned how the
country had re-built and forgiven. I would say that there is still
hostility and unanswered questions for many. But I think the important
thing is that many people have made peace with their lives and learned
to trust in God.
Today was our last day in Bucharest before we leave tomorrow for
Fagaras. This morning we took the subway across town to the Romanian
Peasant Museum (Muzeul Taranului Roman). This museum is completely
dedicated to the life of peasants and houses many artifacts including
clothing, paintings, and icons from the Romanian peasant people. It was
awesome to see so many old things that survived through communism and
are now able to be observed and appreciated by everyone. The coolest
thing that I saw at the museum was probably the giant wooden windmill
and the handmade pottery.
Thankfully, after the fall of communism, the people of Romania were
able to open this museum again; because during the communist era,
sharing and expressing your religious views and any opinion against the
communist government would result in political imprisonment.
Later in the day, Tavi and Ioana took Katrina and I to see an
Orthodox Christian Church, Biserica Elefterie. I have never seen a
church more beautiful than this one! Every bit of the ceiling and most
of the walls were painted with biblical figures and stories from the
Bible. I was definitely amazed by this place of worship, and everything
being written in Romanian just added to its beauty. I think it is
important to view and study other religions in order to help you
discover yourself and what things you really value.
It is kind of bitter sweet to be leaving Bucharest, but I am
looking forward to traveling tomorrow to the mountains in Fagaras. If it
is anything like seeing the mountains in Sinaia, I know I will love it!
I think it is pretty neat that we get to see where Tavi and Ioana grew
up, and the fact that we get to go hiking in the mountains! It is not
everyday back in Illinois that we get to see the mountains.
One of the main differences that I have come to notice between
Romania and the United States is that there is no real heritage that can
be seen around towns or cities back home. While visiting the Romanian
Peasant Museum, I was able to see how the town's people lived on a
day-to-day scale. Being able to see the beautiful costumes and pottery
that were hand crafted was amazing. Right outside of the museum, there
were booths set up to buy various pieces of merchandise that were
similar to what is traditionally made. During communism, this museum was
shut down and stored away due to the government wanting the local
people to forget about their country's heritage and customs. Now that
the museum is back up and running since the fall of the government in
1989, these religious icons, original churches, clothes, and pottery are
Not only was I able to see this wonderful display of Romanian
artifacts, I was able to visit a beautiful church. In this church, the
paintings on each wall are done perfectly and magnificently. I
personally have never seen a place that was so beautifully painted and
told such a strong story as the one seen today. It allows myself to be
proud in my religious beliefs, even though that church was not of the
same denomination as myself. I learned that only certain people could
paint these murals of icons on the walls. That being said, the large
painting of God holding Jesus was painted differently than what was
originally planned. With the attached photo, you can see that Jesus was
actually in prison clothes instead of his traditional clothing. This
small detail went unnoticed for sometime, but it has now become symbolic
of how Romanians had to keep their faith hidden in order to get through
Ioana Hasu held our class discussion today. Before attending class
we were assigned to read through both of her articles: "The Bandits of
the Old" and "Love Letter for my Grandma." I found both articles to be
interesting and heart-warming.
The first article I mentioned was about a man that Ioana knew
personally, Ion Ilioiu. The story spoke about his escape to the
mountains, his first conviction, his captivity, and his torture. This
man stated, "I've never considered it a waste of time. I did what I had
to do. Even if I didn't win, my conscience is at peace and I don't feel
guilty for the outcome of our fight. If I had the chance to do it all
over again, I would act in the same way." It is incredible to read
something like this because only a selfless man would say such a thing.
The next article mentioned struck home for Ioana because she wrote it
about her grandfather. His name was Gheorghe Hasu, and he married a
girl named Eugenia. They had two children together; their son is Ioana's
father. Gheorghe and Eugenia were only married two years before they
were forced by the regime to divorce. Reading that specific part upsets
me because I cannot imagine having my husband taken away from me that
quickly. Ioana said her grandmother today still speaks about Gheorghe as
if he was never gone. It is amazing for me to hear how strong love can
be for someone that is not present. Gheorghe and his brother Andrei
decided to flee from the regime by running to the mountains. Here they
would hide and never stay in one place because of the fear of being
arrested. Ioana said that during the seven years her grandfather was in
hiding, he only visited his wife and children two times. The saddest
part is that all the other times when he came home to see the children,
he never got to speak face-to-face with them; rather the father would
watch the family from afar and leave his hat to let his wife know he was
present. Andrei was executed by the Securitate in 1952. Once Gheorghe
was captured, he was sent to the Jilava prison. Gheorghe was executed in
1957 in the prison.
Ioana's grandmother Eugenia is still alive today. She has many
grandchildren who are part of her life. She was blessed to read the
first part of the only letter that was left of her husband's. The letter
stated, "Dear wife, I haven't seen you and the children for a long
time. My heart aches from missing you and yet I cannot see you. However,
God is with all and is watchful over all things."
The most influential part of my day today was the lecture. It was our
third lecture in class and my favorite so far. It was given by Ioana
Hasu, who has been accompanying our instructor, Tavi. We have gotten to
talk and bond with Ioana over the last week, but the lecture shocked me
because it was about her family and family friends who lived in the
mountains to escape persecution by the communist government. We have
spent a whole week with Ioana and had no idea about the things her
family has gone through! She had no idea until she was about our age
that her grandfather was a part of a group that lived in the mountains
for seven years to escape being captured by the Securitate (secret
police). She found out because the leader of the men recognized her by
her eyes that looked like his old friend's. He told her about her
grandfather. After that moment, she started to research and document
information on the group. She has met two of the men that survived being
in that group and is related to two other men who were in the group,
but they were later captured and executed.
Prior to the lecture we got to read two of Ioana's articles, one on
her grandfather and one on another man she met that was a part of the
group, Ion Ilioiu. The one about her grandfather was sad to read because
it focused on his relationship with his wife and family. At the time he
decided to hide in the mountains with his brother, his wife was
pregnant with their second child. Prior to that he was hiding in the
attic with his brother. Hiding in the attic was also terrible because
during the day they had to watch the Securitate interrogate and abuse
their family for information on them.
The second article talked about Ion Ilioiu. Ioana met him while he
was still alive. She mentioned the physical torture he had to deal with.
After reading that article I am shocked that he remained alive after
everything his body went through. He was shot in the spine and cared for
by doctors who tortured him and purposely mistreated him. He lived to
be an old man.
Ioana also ended up meeting a few other people in association with
the group. She met the wife of her grandfather's best friend. She was
able to get more information on their relationships and ideals. She also
met the daughter of a couple living in the mountains, who was born in a
cave. The girl, Ioana Arnautoiu, and her mother, Maria Plop, were
arrested when the girl was two, and she was eventually sent to an
orphanage where she was adopted. Ioana Arnautoiu did not know anything
about her family until she was much older.
All of the stories told by Ioana in lecture today eventually all
ended up connecting not just with each other, but with the places we
have visited throughout our stay here. It was mind blowing to have
everything finally connect and come together, just as it was shocking to
learn about what people had to go through to stay alive and resist the
Today marks one week here in Romania. I cannot believe how fast time
is going; it feels like we just checked into our hotel. Today was an
interesting class because we discussed the aftermath of communism, The
Fagaras movement. The Fagaras movement was the anti-communist resistance
that involved the women that supported the men hiding and living in the
mountains. Communists would invade people's houses and take the
children and men while leaving the women behind. In class we learned
that women did not have any "political files" or any evidence of
existing during communism. They were forced to divorce their spouse, but
they also were the pillars of support for their families and kept the
memory of the men alive. The men who were considered enemies by the
regime either had the choice of getting arrested in their homes and to
be sent to political prison, or to run away from home, risk never seeing
their wives or children again, and live up in the Fagaras mountains.
Some men chose this option because they knew what their fate would be if
they let communists capture them. The Fagaras group had a geographical
advantage because they were able to spot people coming to look and
arrest them from afar. There were many caves that these men lived in for
years; some even raised children in these caves, which is incredible to
me. In class, I learned that when talking about a memory after
communism, you are reconstructing the past. This ties into
transgenerational trauma. Transgenerational trauma points to how certain
traumatic events can influence not only the generations that were
wounded but also the following generations. We discussed how one can be
healed through forgiveness. It takes a strong person to be able to have
forgiveness and heal after you lost your family or knew someone who was
killed in political prisons. The only things people could do during
these times were to pray and think of the happy times you had with your
family. Men went to the Fagaras Mountains for the sake of their
children. Women at this time did not give up, and had a proud, strong
feeling of who they were as human beings. I definitely think today was
one of the deepest lessons we had all week, along with visiting Jilava
Day 7! We are half way done with our trip! Today began with a trip to
the Romanian Peasant Museum in Bucharest. In the museum there were
several areas. The first area we went to was based on all different
types of icon paintings.
There were icons painted on wood and glass. One thing we did not
really think about was that the peasant class would not have had art
classes, so the icons were "childlike" paintings. However, I believe
that we all found the beauty within them.
The next area we saw was room full of spiritual items, such as 300
year old church that has been brought into museum. To me this was
amazing- it was a very small church made of wood and the ceiling was
very low, and the partition. A room was called windows because it had
two windows in it. The lady explained that windows were very symbolic
because there was a cross in the center, and that everyone has such a
window before his or her eyes, and that we can "see" it depending on
what we have in our soul.
The next areas we went in had an example of what a peasant house would
have looked like. It was very interesting, because in the attic is where
they would store there foods that were drying. Also, instead of the
house having several rooms arranged throughout, they were linear and
each room was connected to the front of the house.
The last area of the museum had several different things such as an
example of how the pottery was made, an iron work shop, several
agricultural items, and an example of the traditional dress that
Romanians would wear.
After the museum we had class with Ioana who taught us how
communism has since affected Romania and the following generations. From
class, a group of us walked to the bookstore (librarie in Romanian)
where they also sell souvenirs. We then grabbed pizza hut for dinner and
along the way we stopped to get more water. We had an encounter with a
lady who was trying to pick pocket Alexa, but she luckily had nothing in
her pocket! We then ate our dinner together in the hotel breakfast
July 30, 2015
The adventure today was being able to visit the beautiful House of
the People, which is where the Romanian parliament gathers. The
structure in itself is amazing due to all materials being from Romania,
but knowing the reasoning for the building of it strips that all away.
It was built for the communist party to gather and continue the ruling
over this great country. The building plans for the contraction included
tearing down many blocks of residential homes and apartments and over
ten churches and monasteries. During the tour we were informed that
eight churches could be moved and saved, but many were demolished. This
caused countless persons to be displaced without compensation for their
massive loss. Throughout the rule of communism, the Romanian people held
onto hope and started to unite together.
The passion that the younger population had after 1989, when
communism fell, is inspiring to me. While walking back to the hotel
after the tour, I was able to talk about some of the protests that the
people did and how coming together made such a change. The particular
protest that we discussed happened over the mining of gold in the
mountains of Rosia Montana. The people of Romania did not agree with how
the government did not inform anyone until the decision was made, so
they took to the streets. The fact that young and educated people came
together to raise their voices to the government in a peaceful manner is
inspiring. The fact that they have seen what keeping quiet can do to
their lives, but still allowed respect for their town, created hope that
changes could be made. Not only was the protest held in Romania, but
all around the world Romanians in other countries came together in
support of the people through social media and news outlets. I enjoyed
learning about how many people came together for the greater good of one
Today we experienced more of the Romanian culture. I was surprised at
how open everyone seems here. For example, when we went shopping I
realized it was much different than in the US. In the US, sales people
at stores really do not talk to you unless you ask them a question.
Here, it was much, much different. Everyone we talked to wanted to know
about us. They wanted to know where we were from and continued to talk
the whole time we were in stores. Especially in one of the stores where I
was trying on a dress. The sales woman kept opening the curtain and
coming in to see everything I was trying on. In the US, it is much more
modest. Someone would never open your door or curtain.
By walking around the streets I realized other differences, too.
Everyone dresses very nice here, especially the women. They wear
high-heels and dresses all the time. We also stopped to eat in the old
part of Bucharest. Even the service is different here. In the US,
waiters and waitresses are constantly coming to your table to see if you
need anything. Here, it is more laid back. If you need something, you
have to flag them down to get them to come over. I like it better this
way because you can visit and talk and are not bothered all the time.
It is good to experience a difference in culture. It helped that I
came with a very open mind. I was not sure what to expect. Having a laid
back personality helps, too. I have enjoyed our time here and was glad
to have a "free day" today to relax a little and catch up on homework. I
am looking forward to going to the museum tomorrow and having Ioana's
Today we got a chance to have a free day here in Bucharest. So, of
course, we chose to sleep in until 10am. Then, we got to visit the
Palatul Parlamentului (the Palace of the Parliament) in Bucharest. The
building is located on Spirii Hill in central Bucharest.
The Palace is the world's largest civilian building with an
administrative function, and is also the most expensive administrative
building. This is where the seconds-in-command and congressmen of
Bucharest work. I was mind boggled at how big this building was. The
building was all white marble and had chandeliers all over the place.
One building had 2,000 chairs and had a balcony that looked out onto the
entrance. I thought it was interesting that the conference rooms had a
section for translating that I found to be very functional.
After the parliament tour, we got to choose what we wanted to do. All
of us girls chose to go shopping in downtown Bucharest. I noticed that
the owners of the shops were very attentive to us. I am not sure if it
was because they knew we were foreigners, but they showed us so many
different things such as key chains or mugs. They were so gracious and
made sure we found everything okay.
This is our sixth day here in Bucharest, and we got to walk around
the city by ourselves. I felt like we have adapted to the city because
we knew our way around and felt more comfortable in general. I have
mixed feelings about having one more day here in Bucharest. I am excited
to see what next week will bring, but I am also adjusted to Bucharest.
The parliament buildings made me think about people going there for
work every day, and how lucky they are to see such beautiful
architecture. I will forever keep the memories that I got from visiting
the Palatul Parlamentului.
We began our day by walking to the House of Parliament. At the House
of Parliament is where the deputies and congressmen meet to discuss and
make decisions for the country of Romania. Inside the House of
Parliament we saw several rooms which were decorated in various styles.
The floors in every hall were made of marble that came from Romania. One
thing I found interesting was that there was a design on the floor
which matched the layout of the building.
Then, everything in a room matched, so the floors matched the heating
registers which matched the decorations and molding of the walls.
After the Palace we walked back towards our hotel where we once
again got KFC, but this time we took it back to the hotel because it was
extremely hot out and we wanted to be in our air conditioned rooms
(apparently here in Romania, air conditioning is not a big deal). After
lunch I watched a little television and then went down to the room of
two other girls, where we sat and talked until it was time to go
shopping. As a group we met at 4:00 pm, and then walked into old
Bucharest. Old Bucharest is full of restaurants that have a ton of
outdoor seating along many alley ways. The first shop we stopped at was a
souvenir shop where I got a few gifts for friends. We then went into a
shoe store with shoes that were very different in styles. Then we
ventured to H&M where I got a few items for myself. At dinner I
ordered Mini-Nachos Grande which was very good. Once back to the hotel, a
few of us gathered in my room where we sat and talked for a few hours
and just hung out!
Today is Thursday July 30th, our free day here in Romania. We decided
to meet around 10am to go together to the House of the People of
Romania (currently, the House of the Parliament). It was extremely hot
here in Romania today, but the house of the parliament was beautiful!
This is the second largest building in the world (the Pentagon being the
first). There were so many rooms that were empty, but the man who
wanted to build the building deemed them necessary. This man was Nicolae
Ceausescu, the leader of Romania between 1965 and 1989. I just know I
couldn't believe living in such a place. Most of the palace is
unnecessary in my opinion, and it is unbelievable that some could think
it is ok to displace so many Romanian residences in order to build this
palace. I even asked Tavi and Ioana if the House of Parliament upsets
them. They responded with "no." They feel that it is a part of history.
It may be a part of ugly history but history nonetheless. I feel that it
is so valuable to have everyone learn about history and where pieces of
history came from.
After a long afternoon break, Tavi gave us the evening to explore
Romania on our own. Nothing too crazy, of course. Us girls decided to go
shopping in old Bucharest for souvenirs and clothes, followed by a late
dinner. Bucharest is beautiful at night, with so many crows and pigeons
flying around; for us, some relief from the heat of the sun. I miss my
wild birds at home so I enjoy seeing the birds at night. I feel that
there is so much to do and see in Bucharest that it cannot be done in
one day, but I feel fortunate enough to have experienced some great
things in the city and learned more about the history here.
After all of our hard work and constant traveling around Romania we
finally get a free day! With all of the things we could have done on our
free day, like sleep in, we went to the House of the People, also known
as the House of Parliament. The house of parliament is the second
largest building in the world, next to the Pentagon. We toured the place
for about an hour and, to my estimation, we only saw around one tenth
of the building, maybe less. It was built at the order of the communist
leader Nicolae Ceausescu. He wanted a building for himself so he
demolished blocks of homes and buildings in order to create the huge
structure. According to our instructor, who used to live in Bucharest,
there used to be a significant amount of stray dogs because they got
left behind when families were forced to leave. Although a sadistic
ruler made the House of Parliament at the expense of innocent people,
the building has provided many purposes for the country. In comparison
to an American structure, it resembles the White House in its
importance. There are multiple meeting rooms of different sizes and
styles based on the size and importance of the meeting.
The rooms to me looked as if they were from Cinderella's castle. It
was by far the most beautiful building I have ever seen, interior-wise.
In Ceausescu's favorite room he was supposed to present important
information on the news. It was one of my favorites because there is a
balcony off of that room that made me feel like a king about to give a
speech to the whole country. The entire time of the tour, I kept
comparing the information I received to how America and the White House
function, except on our tour it felt more like a castle or fancy hotel
than a House of Parliament.
As a group we decided to spend our morning visiting the House of the Parliament of Romania in Bucharest.
Again, we had a tour guide that explained the rooms. The house of the
Parliament is the second biggest building in the world. The biggest
building in the world is the Pentagon. The ceilings of the rooms went on
for miles. I have never seen such high ceilings in my life. I have
never seen so many chandeliers, either. The biggest chandelier weighed
5,000 pounds; and the next largest one weighed 2,000 pounds.
Each room we visited had its original carpet. Most of the carpets
were so big in height and width that the carpenters had to piece it
together on the spot in order for it to be one. A lot of the carpets'
designs resembled the ceilings' design. This is interesting because I
think it is rare today to have the carpet design match the ceiling's
design, but maybe it is a cultural idea. Again, some walls in the rooms
had silk as their wallpaper. I enjoyed looking at the silk walls because
they are much prettier than painted, plain walls.
The columns inside the House of the Parliament were made out of
marble or wood. They were gorgeous and reminded me of the Greek style
columns. All the floors in the building were either white tile or white,
smooth, wood-like material. There were designs on the floors. There was
a specific design that was a key to figure out how to travel through
the embassy. The tour guide explained to us how to navigate the design
but I did not completely understand it. One can find this design
numerous times throughout the embassy. My favorite part of the place was
the white staircase. I cannot explain exactly what it looked like. It
is the type of thing where you would have to see it yourself to realize
why it's my favorite part there.
July 29, 2015
On our fifth day here in Romania, we got to venture out of
Bucharest for the first time. We started our day at 8:45 and walked to
the subway. I had no idea that they had subways here. For the most part,
they were the same as in Chicago or any busy city. We then hopped on a
train to Sinaia for about an hour and 40 minutes to tour the Peles
Castle. During the train ride, I got to see a quick change in the land
outside my window. The scenery changed from flat, sunflower fields to
hilly, numerous trees, and eventually the mountains started. When we
finally arrived in Sinaia, we then started a hike uphill, which was
We got to walk through a dense forest with running water. It
reminded me of hiking while camping. Along the path heading to the
castle, there were different shops where you could buy souvenirs, but
also some traditional Romanian wear, such as women's shirts. Something
that stuck out to me was that there were tons of people, adults and
teenagers, who were selling berries in wooden baskets. This was seen all
over the hike up to the castle but also on the train heading to
When we arrived at the castle, we had to wait for Tavi to get us all
tickets. While waiting, we found a water fountain that was directly in
front of the castle. All four of us sat on the edge of the fountain and
threw a quarter behind our backs and made a wish. I remember we all said
we wished to pass the NCLEX on our first try :).
Finally we got to enter the castle. We had to put on little foot
covers on top of our shoes so that we did not damage the floors.
Our tour guide started out on the main level of the castle. She
explained the history of how each room was made and how important it was
to King Carol I. Peles castle was built from 1899 to 1903. Every room
was so extravagant, with numerous crystal chandeliers, brass-covered
walls, and velvet everywhere. The amount of detail in every little
corner of a bookshelf, or on the bathtub even, was mind-blowing. There
were a couple secret passageways that were surprising. All I could think
about during the tour was imagining people living their lives in that
castle everyday, having every meal at such a long, formal table with the
fanciest silverware. Lastly, during the tour we ran into another group
that was from Wisconsin and New York. It was nice meeting someone so
close to home!
Today's agenda was a trip to Sinaia, a town in the Carpathian
Mountains. We traveled to Sinaia by subway and train. Once we arrived at
Sinaia we visited the Peles Castle. It was less than a mile to hike up
the pathway to get to the castle. It was exactly what you would picture a
castle to look like. The outside was amazing.
There are no words to describe how I felt when I saw the Peles
Castle. The inside of it was even more extravagant. I was amazed by the
architecture of the ceilings, walls, the trim of the walls, and even the
furniture. A lot of the furniture came from Viennese. Most of the
glass, like the mirrors for example, was made from crystals. Some of the
walls in the rooms of the castle had wallpaper, and some had
carpet-like texture on the walls. I found this interesting because I
have never seen carpet on walls before. The trim on the walls and the
furniture was absolutely beautiful. If you looked closely, you could see
the fine designs.
The tour guide said that a certain table and two chairs took three
generations to finish-almost one hundred years. The castle took forty
years to be built. It was built for King Carol I. Inside the castle
there is an elevator that still continues to work today. It can take one
from the first floor to the second floor. The public is not allowed to
use the elevator because they want to preserve it.
Of course the castle had a secret door. I imagine there were other
secret doors that the tour guide did not speak of. The secret door she
mentioned started in the library and ended in a hallway. It was
interesting to know that some entrances into bedrooms looked more like
closets than doorways. I recommend the Peles Castle to everyone, and to
be sure they have a tour guide because it will make the experience a
whole lot more interesting.
Today we traveled to Sinaia by train and subway. This is the place
where the Peles Castle is located. The difference in culture became
clearer today. In the US, if people are in your way, you say, "excuse
me," and people move. Here it is so crowded that you would be saying
"excuse me" to everyone that you passed. People are more independent and
"fend for themselves." The clothing is different. The traditional
Romanian women wear flowy, light white shirts that have sleeves. Most
toys are handmade, authentic toys that are crafted out of wood. In the
US, there are more video games and tablets instead.
Another thing that was different was that you have to pay to use some
restrooms. It was a very small charge, 1.5 lei which is around 0.50
cents in American money. The location was also very different. I am used
to flat plains, but the mountains were so beautiful.
The architecture that makes up Peles Castle is unbelievable. There is
a heavy German style to it from the wood carvings paired with silk,
From a cultural perspective, I learned a lot today. I have only rode
the subway a handful of times and only a few trains in my life. I was
thinking, I would be so tired if I had to do this everyday for my job.
It made me grateful that I am near my work, school, and family. I am
glad I had the opportunity to broaden my cultural horizons. I still live
and work within thirty minutes of where I grew up. So from this point
of view, I have not grown and learned about other places and people. I
also have been trying new foods. So far, I have had stuffed peppers,
chicken schnitzel, various rices, and a seafood combination- including
octopus! I have definitely pushed myself to go out of my comfort zone to
make sure I make the most of this experience.
Today was an eventful day here in Romania. The fact that we are a
large group poses its own challenges, and traveling is not an easy task.
Here in Romania there are vehicles parked in random places (or what
seem like random to me) and the driving methods are a bit different than
I am used to back in the US. So, just picture a large group of girls
trying to make their way down small streets with crowds that are trying
to do the same as us- get from point A to point B. This challenge was
taken up a notch when traveling on the subway. We learned that personal
space is no longer an option when there are hundreds of people around.
Learning to keep up with foot traffic has also been a challenge for our
group. So after taking two subways, one train, and navigating up what
seemed like hundreds of stairs, we reached the beautiful castle of the
last royal family of Romania. The shear size and detail that was
presented in the castle was amazing! I enjoyed learning about the royal
family and how modern the country of Romania was when it had a King.
Learning that communism was the reasoning for the fall of the dynasty
was saddening due to knowing that there were only four kings that ruled
During our time around Sinaia, the simple beauty of the town was
wonderful. We were able to take time to just sit in the park and enjoy
the beautiful weather of the mountain town.
We gawked at the dogs that were playing in the park and talked to some
of the local people. It was heart warming when an older lady came right
up to our group and expressed how beautiful she thought we were and how
wonderful it was that we were in her country and town.
When on the train back to the hotel, after a minor break issue, we
were once again told how wonderful it was that we were visiting Romania
by people that lived in a nearby town. It makes me feel better knowing
that local people like having us around and want to know about us as
much as we want to learn about them!
On our 5th day in Romania we visited Peles Castle in Sinaia Romania.
We got to experience the Romanian subway and railroad. It was an hour
and 40minute train ride to the mountains where Peles castle is located.
We had to walk way up the mountain through the town of Sinaia and
through the woods to reach the castle. Along the way were vendors
selling various items and many people walking around trying to sell
Peles Castle was built as a summerhouse for King Carol I of Romania
in 1874. Construction took 41 years to complete and the castle was in
use until 1947, when the communist party made the king and queen of
Romania leave the castle and the country in exile. Surprisingly, the
castle was very modern for its time including central heating, running
water, and electricity. Luckily for us they offered tours guided by
someone who spoke English, so that saved Tavi or Ioana from having to
translate for us.
The castle was very impressive with all of its décor, including
styling from Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Romania, and Asia. The
castle was also full of hand crafted woodwork, marble, and paintings.
Amazingly, most of the castle was still in original condition including
original artworks, carpets, and wall coverings. I think it is awesome
that such things can survive this many years and continue to be
preserved so people can continue to learn and appreciate the castle and
all its beauty.
After we went through the castle we stopped for lunch in Sinaia. It
is unbelievable how pretty the view of the wooded mountains is there! I
have never seen such a picturesque place. I truly enjoyed visiting Peles
Castle today; not only was the castle interesting and beautiful, but
the scenery was amazing! After the castle we took the train back to
Bucharest and then the subway back to the hotel.
Today is our 5th day in Romania. We began it by taking the subway to
the train to go to Sinaia. Once there, we walked up the roadway to the
Peles Castle, through the woods on a brick sidewalk. Along the path up
to the castle there were several stands full of souvenirs.
Once we reached the middle of the hill we could actually see the
castle. This place was not only huge, but it was full of intricate
detail. The outside had a large lawn full of statues. Once we walked up
to the castle there was a fountain. Us girls, we sat along the edge of
the fountain and we each threw a quarter in and made a wish while
waiting for Tavi to get our tickets. We then entered the castle for a
It was gorgeous; everything was wood and very fancy- from the rugs to
the wallpaper. On the inside we saw the first two floors. Throughout
the castle there were several differently styled rooms, themed from
Germany to an Arabic themed room. My favorite room in the palace was the
central one. It was full of different types of paintings, marbles, and
wood. There were balconies all around overlooking this room.
After the castle, we shopped among the booths. We then went to
lunch where I had beef kabobs and potatoes with ham and onion. We then
went to the park where I tested out the boomerang I got (IT ACTUALLY
KIND OF WORKED!!).
While in the park a little old lady wearing lavender came up to all
of us and complemented us on our beauty; we all found this to be
extremely funny because she did not want anything to do with Tavi (the
one guy with us).
We then took the train home where we had another funny adventure,
because they forgot to take the brakes off of one of the train cars. At
first we thought we just smelled burnt rubber, and assumed it to be
coming from outside the train- until our train car began to fill with
smoke. Of course we all freaked out, even though no one else did. We
looked outside of the train car and there was a bunch of smoke coming
from the car in front of us, but apparently it was no big deal so we
went on our way back to Bucharest.
Today our class took a field trip to a town called Sinaia, in the
Mountains. We took a train there to visit Pele's castle, the previous
home of the king and queen of Romania. Today I predominantly noticed
communication while traveling to and from the castle. It is extremely
difficult for us to communicate with the local people since we do not
know their language. Without our instructor we would not be able to buy
our train tickets or find our train to get to Peles castle.
Once we got off the train in Sinaia we walked about thirty to forty
minutes to the castle. Since we do not have service to use Google maps,
we had to ask people directions to find out how to get to the castle.
While walking to and from the castle there were some people who
approached us and talked to us. I had an older couple approach me before
I got to the castle and start talking to me, all of which I could not
understand. It is sad that I am not able to talk one-on-one with the
locals, because that is an important way to learn more about a culture.
Thankfully, Tavi and Ioana were there to translate for us, so we do not
completely miss out on the opportunity to speak with people.
Once we got to the castle, I was happy to find that tours are given
in English as well as Romanian. Taking a tour in English is much more
beneficial because it saves time in which Tavi would have to translate,
and it saves the possibility of missing something else they said. I
believe more is gained by hearing information from the source because of
this. On our venture back to Bucharest we were sitting next to three
Romanian women that ended up talking to us. We talked with them for
about thirty minutes since they were able to speak English very well. We
compared and contrasted our cultures. We taught them some English words
and they taught us a Romanian phrase. I hope I run into more Romanians
who are able to speak English so that I can learn more about Romania's
July 28, 2015
Jilava is a prison outside of Bucharest. In this area, one building
is being used still today as a prison. But one building was a "political
prison" which was used for transitioning people during communist times.
To give some background I will explain how this felt going inside. We
took a bus to get there and when we got to the gate security stopped us.
We had to give up our cell phones, chargers, and ear buds as a
precaution so that we were not leaving any for the inmates. Once we
passed through the gates we drove past the active prison. We drove down a
windy dirt road to an underground tunnel where we saw a building, even
more underground. This is Jilava, where human beings were no longer
treated as people.
Communism took over the area. And anyone who not only opposed it, but
made a comment about how they did not agree with something, were taken
from their homes with no explanation and sent here. An example relating
to us would be if students from the US went out with friends at night,
made a joke about Obama, and the next day they were told to come out of
their homes and taken in a van straight to Jilava with no explanation to
them or their family as to why or where they were going. Some people
stayed here for four years or more. They had absolutely no contact with
the outside world, no letters, no visits, no packages, and no hope. When
they arrived at Jilava, still not knowing what's going on, there were
guards lined up with baseball bats telling you that if you make it all
the way to the door on your own two feet, maybe you will survive to
someday come out of this place. The building is completely underground
with grass grown on top of it so that outsiders cannot see it's there.
The windows were completely boarded up so that they could not see the
sunlight for days, or months. There are tiny cells with wooden
formations used as beds. Sometimes there were up to 50 men in these tiny
cells at a time. They had to defecate and urinate into a bucket and had
another bucket they all ate from. These buckets were often switched.
They did not shower for months at a time. In the cells the winters were
very, very cold and the summer excruciatingly hot. The purpose of the
people being imprisoned was to re-educate them, destroy them
psychologically, and make them suffer. They would not just kill them,
because that would be too easy. They kept them on the very edge of
death. Since many were religious, Octav Bjoza reminded us that in
Pitesti the prisoners were given feces for communion.
Octav Bjoza is a man in his seventies who survived Jilava. He was there
in his 20's for four years. We walked through the prison with him, and
he pointed out what was done to them in what areas. No part of the
prison had been renovated or updated, it is all exactly as it was when
he was there. It is now considered a National Monument. As we walked
through the dark concrete halls, I could not help but wonder how Octav
came back here. After all that was done to him and how many people he
watched die and suffer, does he ever recover or is it therapeutic for
him to tell his story? He said some of the worst punishment was bending
down, touching your toes, and your eyes were forced to look directly at
your toes for up to 24 hours at a time. Can we even imagine? I don't
think my imagination can even come close. He said this made a lot of
people crazy after time. Octav was joking at certain times and laughing,
and I could not help but wonder how this is possible. Walking out of
the old prison with tears in my eyes I felt truly blessed that I had the
experience to walk through it and hear his experience first-hand. It is
truly something you cannot explain- all the emotion that it gives you
by being in the exact cells where so many souls were destroyed. As you
walk through the musty, cold, dark cells you feel a certain tightness
and pressure that makes you uneasy. There was no justice for Octav. He
was not compensated in any way for his mistreatment. I felt myself
wanting to look into his eyes and stand near him since I was so amazed
at his story. I kept feeling so lucky to have the opportunity to meet
one of the rare people that survived this monstrosity. Some stories will
live on through survivors writing books, but soon all of the survivors
will die and this will only be told in history books. That is the
saddest part for me.
What kept this great man we met today going while he was incarcerated
at Jilava prison was the wise words of an older gentleman. The strong
words that made such a strong statement stick with me throughout the
day. Octav Bioza recited, "You have to win against yourself, once you
win you will be victorious- always victorious."
Octav described the conditions and tortures he endured during his time
at Jilava prison in great detail while taking us cell to cell. Close to
the end of our time with him, he took us to the cell where he spent his
time. He held his composure and modeled the victorious attitude that
kept him alive. He mentioned that there is still not much known about
the horrible things that happened at Jilava and Pitesti Prison.
When visiting the next prison, Pitesti, I was surprised to see that
it was in the middle of the city. Understanding that it was outside of
the city when it was constructed, it still had me wondering why a town
would want to be around a place with such a torturous background. This
question was answered quite simply- the people of Romania, if they did
not go through this torture themselves, had no idea that these events
took place. As discussed during our tour in Pitesti with Maria Axinte,
who is the one who made it possible for people to see this prison, the
prisoners were forced to sign documents that ensured they would never
talk about the events that happened. The fear instilled in these persons
was so real, that telling their loved ones was not worth putting their
safety on the line. Many of these stories were not released until after
the fall of communism in 1989, but still many prisoners did not speak.
Many of the stories that have been shared are from family members of
prisoners. Families went years not knowing the suffering that their
loved ones endured. With this, many of the facts died with the prisoners
either in prison or later in life. As I learned today, not many people
had the ability or courage to speak out against the communist role. One
figure that arose was father George Calciu. He was imprisoned twice and
spoke what the communist party did not want him to say many times during
trial. Due to his courage to speak out against this power, he was
forced to flee to America where he used his platform to help Romania
have a voice that was suppressed. Father George helped bring the faith
of the people back into believing that there is hope and peace within
Legend: The room where the tortures in Pitesti took place is now a chapel.
Today was day four in Romania. We visited Jilava and Pitesti; both
were used as political prisons beginning the mid 1940s until communism
fell in December of 1989. At our visit to Jilava we were fortunate
enough to meet a man who miraculously survived the tortures that
happened there during his imprisonment. His name was Octav Bjoza. Just
by looking at him you would never suspect that such a sweet looking
elderly man would be able to survive through Jilava and be able to speak
about it, let alone revisit the place where he was beaten and
Octav gave us a detailed description of what the people went through
during their imprisonment and took us throughout the prison to see the
actual rooms where such horror took place. The original Jilava prison
(Jilava has a new building that is an active prison today) was
incredibly old and run down, like something you would see in a horror
movie. The whole place had a bad vibe to me and the energy there was
One of the rooms that I walked into was used as a holding room where
they kept people in hopes of them dying from disease, rather than
execution. Octav told us that they would put prisoners in the room that
had deadly diseases such as tuberculosis so the disease would spread to
all the other inmates. The trip to Jilava was truly unforgettable and
the experience brought tears to my eyes. It makes the story of what
happened in communist prisons so much harder to fathom when there is
someone that can tell you firsthand what it was like to live through it.
Although you could tell in Octav's eyes that it was extremely painful
to come back to Jilava, it is so important to share his story because so
many people have no idea any of these events happened and it is a story
that needs to be told.
To prepare for our trip to Romania we read a book on Father George
Calciu. George Calciu was born before the Romanian government fell under
communistic rule. When the country fell to the communist party, many
students, leaders, and various intellectuals were imprisoned for
re-education where they were unjustly confined and endured brutal
treatment. Father George was one of the students at the time he was
arrested and thrown in jail. Today our class went to two prisons, one in
Jilava and one in Pitesti to learn more about what happened within the
prisons, and more specifically what Father George Calciu went through.
The first prison we went to in Bucharest was Jilava, the largest and
more brutal prison during the communist period. The prison is
twenty-five feet underground. The purpose of it being below ground is so
no one could see the prison. The place was originally built as a
military fort to protect Bucharest if it were ever under attack. George
Calciu arrived in Jilava after he spent years in Pitesti and went
through what is known as the re-education program. Octav Bjoza went to
Jilava as well. While showing us the prison he discussed how they were
greeted into the prison. He said that they would walk in rows towards
the entrance of the prison while guards beat them. During this time, the
guards yelled at them that whoever made it to the gate on his own feet
may be among the ones who would come alive out of the jail. I picture
Father George entering the structure in a similar way. We also visited
one of the rooms that George had to stay in. The rooms were very dark
since they were underground. Most of the rooms had no windows. If they
did they were boarded up. The cells we saw were what I would imagine to
be regular sized cells, but enough people would be placed inside one
cell that there was physically no room for them to sit. Fort 13 Jilava
functioned so that the persecutors were purposefully trying to kill the
inmates without physically doing it themselves. It is amazing that
Father George was able to survive being in this jail.
Calciu was also sent to Pitesti's jail where the inmates were all
between the ages of 18 and 25. We also visited this prison, which was
roughly an hour drive away. This prison looked much nicer, but this did
not compensate for the equally horrendous acts done by the guards here
as well. Father George's faith helped him survive in his sixteen years
in prison. His faith also helped saved hundreds of other people he
encountered within the prisons, as well as the guards. In my opinion, he
also played a huge role in bringing light to what was happening in the
prisons, as well as aiding in ending the corrupted communist ways.
Octav Bjoza is a man who survived the communist regime. He is
currently 77 years old and is the president of the Association of the
Former Political Detainees. He was our guest speaker at the prison of
Jilava in Bucharest. I could not take my eyes off this guy, because I
was so intrigued with every word he spoke. This man has experienced
fourteen prisons in four years, and he said Jilava was the worst one for
torture. The things Octav went through were horrible.
For what he experienced around 50 years ago, I would say he is in great
shape. This man climbed numerous stairs with us. We visited not only
the lower floor of Jilava but also the very top of the outside. Octav is
at a healthy weight and stood around six feet tall. He did not use a
cane nor hearing aids, but he did wear eye glasses. I could see tears in
his eyes a few times, and I could tell it was difficult to hold in his
emotions. However, this man has not fully cried since the one moment in
prison when his fellow inmates reminded him it was the birthday of his
girlfriend. Even though the prisons tried to mentally break him down, I
think in the end all those experiences made Octav mentally stronger than
he was ever before. As awful as Jilava was, it brought Octav to see the
true meaning of a human being. It made his faith stronger. Octav
experienced the most horrific things humans can do to other humans, but
today I could still see kindness in his face. It is amazing to know
that this man wants to educate the younger generation about the
communist regime. He has spoken to nearly 6,000 young adults about his
personal experiences with the regime. This is an experience that I will
always keep with me. There is no doubt there was a higher power watching
over Octav Bjoza during his years in prison.
Today began with a visit to the Jilava prison. When we first entered
the gates while still in our bus, they took all cell phones, laptops,
chargers, etc. At first this seemed intimidating, but they explained
that the prison still has parts that are active, meaning inmates are
still held there. We drove down a long road and off to the right we saw
several very old buildings that are falling apart. Concrete is falling
off parts of the building, the paint is fading, and there are several
cracks in the walls. As we got off the bus we met Colonel Micu, who is
now in charge of the place. He began by giving us some history of Jilava
In the 19th century, Jilava was originally 1 of 18 forts built around
Bucharest by the military for protection. Since they were never needed,
it was then turned into a prison.
We then had the pleasure of being guided through the prison by one of
the former detainees named Octav Bjoza. As we entered the first
building and the first room I began to feel an overwhelming presence of
emotions. The room, which is probably the size of a typical American
bedroom, held 50-75 people. There were no bathrooms so the political
detainees had to use the bathroom in one bucket. They had water in
another bucket, and often they had to switch buckets. When we were told
some of these stories, I could not even fathom what it would be like to
have things that are so inhumane done to you by another human. We then
went to a second building where Father George Calciu (who is the priest
our book is about) was held. The building consisted of four small rooms
that were probably less than 10ft by 10ft. The rooms had no light, and
no air ventilation. Each one of these rooms held approximately 4 people
and were intended to kill the prisoners (actually that was the intent of
the whole prison). The guards purposely placed a sick inmate, such as
someone with tuberculosis, so that the other three would catch it and
also become ill and die. When I entered one of these rooms I immediately
began to feel claustrophobic. I began to feel sad, disgusted, angry,
and so many other emotions.
We then began to enter the building where Octav was held during his
four year stay at Jilava. The first room we went to held 150-175 people
at a time. In this room they had an example of the foot chains that the
prisoners had to wear.
The next thing we saw was the hall where people were kept in solitary
confinement. The beds were held on the walls and could have been raised
by the guards out of the room, so the detainees did not have control of
when they could sit or lay down on them. On the walls there were still
lines of psalm 50 that had been engraved by an inmate. To me, this
showed just one of the many ways that the inmates kept not only their
hopes up, but how they kept their faith even in the darkest of times.
On our third day, our group got to visit Jilava prison. There was a
gentleman named Octav Bjoza who told us his story of surviving this
political prison. When we first got to the prison, we learned that there
were two parts to the prison. One of these being an active part with
common criminals as inmates, and the other was the old political prison
that was in use from 1947 to 1989. When we walked down the stairs into
the cells, you could literally feel the temperature drop. Some cells
were pitch black, and some were boarded up so no one could experience
sunlight. Bjoza was sent to Jilava when he was in his freshmen year of
college. He explained that people were put in shackles that were on
their hands and feet and were connected together. There was an actual
pair of the shackles used on a table in a cell that we got to pick up.
Bjoza said that if you did not do what the guards would say, they hit
the shackles on your feet or hands until you did what you were told. The
amount of pain and suffering that these people went through is
mind-boggling, because in reality they did not commit any crimes. They
were put through hell; luckily, Octav Bjoza survived and lives to tell
his story. He said that the struggle was not getting through the
beatings and tortures, but to overcome the mental struggle and believe
in hope that you will survive- this was the real obstacle.
July 27, 2015
Day two started out with breakfast at the hotel and then class
followed by lunch. After lunch we walked to a museum dedicated to the
information and story that is displayed at The Memorial To The Victims
Of Communism And To The Resistance in Sighet, Romania. This museum
exists in Bucharest because Sighet is so far away and it is so important
to tell this generation of the horrors that communism brought to the
country of Romania. Basically it is a museum within a museum. There we
met with two people: Ana Blandiana and Romulus Rusan. Both experienced
what it was like to live during the communist regime and both had
parents that directly experienced the horror and torture of being
controlled by communism.
Mr. Rusan began by sharing with us the story of how Romania was taken
over and the history of how they became the country they are today.
After WWII, in 1945 the Soviet army imposed a communist government in
Romania. They of course proposed this to the citizens of Romania as a
good, wonderful thing that would work, but in fact this was a lie. In
1946 elections were held but these, too, were fraudulent and soon after
the elections innocent people began to be arrested and the
"brainwashing" began. Mr. Rusan shared with us many details of what went
on in Romania during this time; it is just absolutely astonishing to
think of the things these people went through, and for no reason at all!
Our second presenter, Ana Blandiana, took us through the museum. Each
room held different posters of what is in the museum in Sighet. She was
very knowledgeable about the information displayed and gave great
detail so we could understand. Again both presenters showed great desire
to inform and teach others what really happened to the people of
Romania during this time.
On our second day here in Bucharest, we visited Memorialul Sighet.
This was the permanent exposition in Bucharest that presented a memorial
for the victims of communism that is organized in the northern part of
Romania, in Sighet. Sighet prison contained 56 cells and was built in
1897. We got the chance to meet and listen the founder of the museum,
poet Ana Blandiana, and her husband, historian and writer Romulus Rusan.
They explained how labor camps, prisons, deportation camps, and places
of confinement were organized all over Romania during 1945-1989. I
noticed on the map attached, there were many more deportation centers in
the southeast portion of the country.
Many common criminals were confined in this prison, along with
political prisoners, among whom there were many priests from the
national churches. Today, the former prison is a museum dedicated to
what happened under communism in Romania and the other countries in
Central and Eastern Europe. The cells have been transformed into museum
rooms, with their own theme of the different distortions that caused so
many people suffering and death. There was a cemetery of unknown grave
sights of those who had passed.
I also learned that people were deported from one location to another
within Romania for no reason at all, but only because the state wanted
to have a buffer zone between Romania and former Yugoslavia. Among the
dead were people from ages of just one day old, up to 100 years of age.
People were taken from one location to another for no reason at all.
Coming back to the Sighet prison, there was a place at the memorial
called the Space or Recollection and Prayer. This memorial was built
into the ground, where there was an open cross on the ceiling. Rain and
snow are able to fall down on the table, and the reflection from the
water makes an outline of a cross on the walls. Visitors can light
candles and place them into the sand placed of this table. I would love
to visit this memorial from the way it sounds. We learned that from
Bucharest, the actual Sighet prison is about a 14-hour train ride from
where we were. I really enjoyed listening to the founders of this
memorial and learned lots!
Re-education through torture
Today we went to class for two hours in the morning, lunch, and then
an exhibit of a Communism memorial in Bucharest. The one thing that
really evoked emotion from me was the exhibit that called "Re-education
through Torture." Throughout the day, I began to understand the concept
of re-education. In our class, we learned about how communism is really
about breaking relationships. For it to work correctly, this is the
first step. In order for the government to have total power, you need to
break up families and communities. The two ways we talked about how you
can fight against communism are: you can let it demolish the government
itself and think that we are good, they are bad, or the other option is
to fight against oneself, to fight against the feelings of hatred that
may be born into your soul. In a way, I think the people who suffered in
prisons and labor camps won because many of them forgave their
torturers and did not let their hearts become filled with hatred and
anger. Aspazia Otel Petrescu was one woman who, while being beaten badly
in prison, saw the guard look at her and she realized he was enjoying
beating her. When she then felt hatred for the guard, she immediately
asked the other inmates around her to pray for her that she could
forgive this man. In her eyes, the battle was to forgive and not feel
hatred. This is the most amazing part to me. How could these poor men
and women look beyond what was being done to them?
"When you suffer a little, you become hateful;
when you suffer a lot, you forgive everything" (Fr. Roman Braga, who
was in prison in Pitesti; he died this year at the Dormition Monastery
in Michigan, USA).
Today's lecture really caught my attention. There was a PowerPoint
slide that was titled Communism and the Church. One of the sentences in
the slides states, "Communism is a doctrine that apparently desires
union, equality". This sentence boldly stands out to me because
equality, in my opinion, is not a good thing. Equality sounds like a
good idea but is it really? We should want there to be differences in
individuals. We should want to have uniqueness between people because if
we are all the same, then we can be replaceable. If everyone were the
same as each other, it would defeat the purpose of life on Earth. This
is the main idea of communism. The regime wanted to shape their society
to function all the same way. This is connected with the whole destroy one- destroy them all.
Today in class we spoke about the Seven Homilies from the book
written by Father George Calciu. The first Homilies is called The Call.
This one is about reconnecting with other people. This section discusses
how the regime wanted to create a "new man." The communist regime in
Romania was similar to the one in Nazi Germany because they both wanted
to re-educate and create a new man so that society functioned as a
mechanism rather than individuals in connection with one another. The
second homily is called Let Us Build Churches. This section focuses on
the importance of developing your own uniqueness. For me, this is an
important section because it makes one realize that even though people
are different from one another, there is always something that binds
them together. The third homily is titled Heaven and Earth. I enjoyed
reading this section because it is about the importance one's presence
can be to another. There is always a third presence in the connection
between two people, whether one calls it heaven or love. The fourth
homily is titled Faith and Friendship. Faith and hope gave people
something to live for during the time of communism. The fifth homily is
titled Priesthood and Human Suffering. The important idea from this
section is that we, the people, take care of creation-take care of
others. Being present with those who are suffering makes a bigger
difference than telling them that you understand them and giving them
false hope for the future. The sixth homily is titled Death and
Resurrection. "Forgive yourself, before forgiving others." This section
points out that in order to truly love someone, you have to sacrifice
your own life. I cannot relate completely with this statement because I
have not sacrificed my life for a child or marriage. The last homily is
titled Forgiveness. "Genuine forgiveness takes place in love." This
statement is important to understand because one gives forgiveness
freely. One does not have to necessarily deserve forgiveness in order to
Class in Romania:
Conducting a class in a foreign country is different from how
classes are done at Methodist. We do not have a lecture every day while
in Romania, but we did today as well as yesterday. We will not have
another lecture until Friday. Our lecture is held at another hotel,
which is about a seven to ten minute walk in downtown Bucharest. Walking
around Bucharest (the capital of Romania) is similar to walking around
the streets of Chicago, but with more historical European architecture.
Once we get to the hotel we take turns taking a small elevator to the
seventh floor where we walk around a narrow winding hallway until we
reach a business room. Class proceeds in the small business room where
there is a dinner-sized table that we all sit around. Having a lecture
is more like having a dinner conversation or a business meeting, which I
like because it is more intimate and feels like a conversation rather
than a lecture. Class lasts around two hours, during which we discuss
readings from Father George Calciu's book (famous religious figure
during communistic era), important events and details about what took
place during the communist reign, or places that we will be visiting. We
go through power points and take notes just like in a normal class, as
well as watch short videos and documentaries. The videos we watch are
typically of places we will visit and/or people involved in the history.
Videos are also used to help provide a visual of a specific topic being
discussed. Overall the informational aspect of lecture is similar to
what would be found at school. One major difference about class in
Romania versus class at Methodist College is that at Methodist the class
is very cold while in Romania it is very hot. Adjusting to the extreme
differences in environment is very difficult and can unfortunately make
it hard to focus on the information and the discussion. When we do not
have lecture we are substituting lecture time by visiting a museum,
monument, or historical site that relates to the history we are
discussing and reading about.
Today we were lucky enough to speak with the founders of Memorialul
Sighet about the history of Romania and how it was changed by communism.
There are many topics to cover in discussing how Romania was changed
forever, but I am going to speak about the horrific living conditions
these men, women, and children had to endure just to survive.
Some back-story to why these persons become imprisoned will give a
better insight on how brutal and inhumane the treatment was to these
people in the camps and prisons. First, people could be thrown into
prison solely because of the family they belonged to; they could also be
arrested for speaking about a topic that was not approved, spreading propaganda against the communist party, or simply not agreeing
with the party's ideas. All of those would have landed you in the
re-education program. Those programs used torture to change the way a
person thought and acted. The topic that I would like to cover is that
of the living conditions of the prisoners. The conditions described to
us were unimaginable and inhumane at the least.
Some of the examples of the way the people were forced to live are
that about 100 people were stuck into a large room and there was one
window and a door. The best spot in the room would be in the back by the
window or right next to the door. As the persons died or were taken,
the next person that had been there the longest would take that spot.
That might have been one of the best situations that was explained, but
one of the stories told to us was about their living conditions. These
prisoners were not given baths, a place to use the bathroom, fresh
water, utensils to eat, or proper food. We heard how they were given
very hot food, so hot it would burn their hands. The guards forced them
to eat their food before the guards would get into the next cell. This
caused burning of their faces and throats due to the temperature. The
water the prisoners received at times was very high in salt and was
impossible to drink; when they drank it, it caused them to get more
dehydrated than they already were.
Another story that was explained in the museum was how these persons
were expected to use the bathroom. They were forced to use the bathroom
in the same bowl they ate from. Note that none of this was ever cleaned
and was not dumped. If the person spilled the food from the bowl, then
they were forced to lick it off the ground or be tortured. If the
person refused to eat, then torture was inflicted. The brutality against
these prisoners is hard to hear, but the strength of the people is
inspiring. It is truly wonderful that some of the people who endured
such brutality could forgive. The fact that these people looked to their
faith to keep them strong and did not give up sends a clear message
that you can be at your lowest point and yet persevere.
Today began with breakfast, after breakfast we had class. In class
we discussed some the seven homilies given by George Calciu to his
students during lent. After class we had lunch at KFC, which was very
similar in that they served fried chicken, but different because they
would serve French fries instead of mashed potatoes, and the store had
many deserts, coffee, and alcohol. I find this very strange because I
see KFC as a fast food restaurant and not some place where you would go
and sit down and eat. After lunch we had a short break and then we went
to visit a museum, The Memorial of victims of communism and of the
resistance. The founder of the Museum, Ana Blandiana, and her husband,
Romulus Rusan, came to meet with us and to inform us about the museum.
Mrs. Blandiana's husband started off by telling us some of the history
of communism. To me it is amazing how many horrible things happened to
people and how it has been sheltered from the rest of the world. Such
things include the torture that the victims endured which was depicted
by pictures drawn by former detainees.
These pictures showed people being bound and then having boards
hitting the prisoners' hands to break them, prisoners being
electrocuted, being kicked in the mouth, etc.
Another form of torture that did not happen in the prison was
internal relocation. There was a barrier on the boarder of Yugoslavia
and anyone that fell in this barrier was picked up and moved to the
Eastern part of Romania. They were not given supplies and they had no
money, so they had to start a new town by living off of the land. I
cannot even imagine what that would be like. These people did nothing
wrong, yet they were being moved so they did not "get influenced" by
the other country during a moment in which Stalin, the leader of the
Soviet Union, was in conflict with Tito, the leader of the former
Yugoslavia. I just don't believe that someone could be that horrible to
another human being.
Mrs. Blandiana also told us about the cemetery outside of the
prison which held the bodies of the former prisoners. They do not know
where the prisoners were buried because there were not any grave
July 26, 2015
We made it to Bucharest, Romania! I am feeling very tired so
far because of the time difference. So far, I have not felt any "culture
shock," because Tavi prepared us for what to expect. We started our day
with going to a Romanian church near Hotel Opera. I was surprised that
everyone stands for so long! A few things I noticed were: people dress
nicely, people seem very laid back, and families are more close-knit.
Families seem to stick together and not talk to other families as much.
Where I am from, families are not always your blood relative, but rather
who you connect with and care about. The families here seem
My favorite part of the day was hearing how two men have lived
during communism. We had three people speak to us. Two of them were in
their 80s. They were so passionate, and you could not help but feel for
them. One man was arrested and imprisoned for propaganda against
communism and because of his family history. He had a "bad file." This
would change his life forever. While in prison, he was beaten and given
living conditions so terrible that it's a miracle he is still alive. He
said they did not see sunlight for months, were beaten during
interrogations, and were mentally tortured because they could not talk
to family, had to stay in the same cell and go to the bathroom in
buckets. They showered sometimes once a month. It's hard to even imagine
these conditions. However, the best part of it all, the purpose the
persecutors had was not accomplished. Their main goal was to separate
people through fear, but when the persecuted were in prison they became
connected even more. One man said that they could see their own
characters and the characters of each other when they were beaten down
After church we went to Pizza Hut and then had a class lecture. We
learned more about communism and prisons. I am very excited to tour the
prison in a couple of days! I still cannot believe that so many people
today have grandparents, fathers, and family members who were a part of
this torture and crime. It really has not been that long ago. It makes
me wonder- how do you heal from something like that? I do not think you
do. But still, everyone here seems so positive. There is a lot of
literature about this time in history, but it makes me sad that someday
all of the people that had firsthand encounters will be gone, and no
longer be able to tell their story. Like today, the two older men at
church were so passionate and you could tell it was therapeutic for them
to tell their stories.
On the agenda today was church. The church service was
different than what I am used to. It was a good different because it was
a new experience for me, and I learned a lot from it. The inside of
the monastery was pretty. There were all kinds of paintings on the
ceilings and walls. There were beams not just from the ceiling, but from
the floor up to the ceiling. The monastery is currently being worked
on. The women stand on the left and the men stand on the right. Everyone
stands the entire time of the worship, but there are chairs available
for the ones who need to sit. I thought this was the most interesting
concept to the worship, because it is unfamiliar in the States to stand
the entire service. Another interesting concept of the Orthodox worship
is that people can come and go as they please. In the States, worship is
formal. There is a beginning time, people sit through the entire
worship, and then there is an ending time where everyone leaves as a
whole. Throughout the Orthodox worship, there were certain specific
traditions that I did not understand. People can light a candle as a
prayer for either the living or the dead. The Orthodox worship in one
Afterwards, the class had a meeting with three men about
Communism and their own personal experiences. The youngest man was
helpful to all of us because he explained in detail the time frame from
the early 1900s until the fall of Communism in 1989 and so on. There was
a survivor of one of the communist prisons in Romania. Tavi translated
for him. This man was interesting to listen to, even though I could only
catch bits and pieces of his story, because I could read his body
language and his facial expressions. I could see the passion this
eighty-five year old man had for his life experiences involving the
Communist Regime. At a young age, this man had a weight on his shoulder
because of his father. His father was put in prison. His father's
actions reflected on his own life. The man telling the story was put in
prison in his twenties. He did experience the torture that you might
have read in different readings of the stories about the communist
prisons. The other older man's story was interesting too. I could see
his passion for his experiences, too, because at one point he had tears
in his eyes. This man's story was about how lucky and blessed he was for
not having to go to prison. He actually bypassed getting arrested
because he traveled to Canada. This man did not want to leave his
hometown to move to Canada, but he knew he would not be safe if he
After the liturgy meeting with survivors from the communist
prisons, Tavi held a two hour class. Throughout the class period he
spoke about Communism in Romania. Nicolae Ceausescu was mentioned. He
was elected the head of the communist party in 1965. Nicolae and his
wife were executed on the spot of trial December 25, 1989. Many say
their trail was unfair.
We have a special guest that will be with us throughout our trip here
in Romania. Her name is Ioana Hasu. Ioana has her bachelor's degree in
journalism. She recently graduated with a master's degree. Ioana is a
historian; therefore, she has good insight to what we will be discussing
in class. Ioana plans to continue her work at her job at the radio
station here in Bucharest. She will be lecturing to us once or twice
during our stay here in Romania. Ioana has a personal connection to the
history of communism because his grandfather took part in it.
Today began with waking up around 7:30, getting ready and then
going to breakfast. For breakfast the hotel offered the normal eggs,
sausage (the type of sausage that in America my dad used to cook for
dinner called Kielbasa), potatoes, fruit, yogurt, toast, pastries, etc.
but they also offered some things I am not used to seeing at breakfast
which included potato salad (at least that's what it looked like),
salami and turkey cold cuts, tomatoes, olives, mustard. I of course
stuck to fruit, scrambled eggs, potatoes, and the sausage. The next part
of the day included a quick walk to the church. The church was way
different from what I had expected. The women were standing on the left
and the men on the right (there were only a few chairs scattered
throughout). People would go from kneeling to standing quite often.
Also, the "Altar" was kept in a room behind the front of the church
which you could see through the door (note: the altar is behind what the
Orthodox call the iconostas). The paintings of the icons were
Speaking of icons, an elderly lady at the church who was very
friendly gave us a card of an icon, which I found to be very welcoming,
and she also showed us where we could find the history of the church in
English. The service was done in Romanian so we could not actually
understand what was being said. After about 20 minutes we went outside
where Tavi gave us candles to light: if you placed your candle on the
left you were asking for good wishes for yourself or your family, and if
on the right it was a family member or someone who passed away. Since
the service was going to last another hour we walked to the park for
about half an hour where we sat in the shade and chatted. We then went
back to the church where we met with one survivor who was a political
detainee who explained his story and told how his family member's
actions affected his life. This man seemed very passionate about his
story and by the tone of his voice and his actions it seems that he had
not told his story very much. The next man discussed how something as
simple as creating flyers against the communist party affected his whole
life. He was not able to get jobs, and it took him at least 8 years,
and a "threatening" letter from his uncle who pretended to be part of
the U.S. congress to allow him to visit his family in Canada, where he
then remained for 20 years.
After the meeting with these two men we went to lunch at Pizza Hut
which was very fancy compared to America; the dining room had three
separate areas. On the menu there were burgers, pasta, chicken fingers,
wine, cocktails, beer, etc. After lunch we had class where we discussed
the book that we are reading, and also the history of communism.
Today, Sunday, we ventured to a local Orthodox Christian
church. Their church sermon was much different from what I am used to.
Their sermons are significantly longer than mine, or at least it felt
that way since I did not know what they were saying. Their service
started at 9am and went until around 11:30am. My church services last
anywhere from an hour and fifteen minutes to an hour and a half. My
services are also broken up between announcements, worship, and then a
sermon given by the priest. At the local Orthodox Church the priest
seemed to be singing scripture or hymns the whole time. As the priest
would sing some members would speak in unison or would start singing
with the priest at a certain point.
Also during the service it seemed like the people were
constantly making the sign of the cross. They would do it at what seemed
random times, very consistently, and sometimes multiple times in a row.
I could not figure out a pattern, a part from when people entered and
left the church, they would cross themselves. The church itself was
also different from ours. The inside made me think of a barn, as thin
wooden beams were everywhere horizontally and vertically to hold up the
building. Along the walls were detailed art of saints and scripted
figures as well as on the ceiling, reminding me of the Sistine chapel.
Before entering the inside of the church there is an area covered
outside where people can light a candle representing a
prayer/thought/wish for someone. Candles were placed on the right side
to represent a thought for the dead and on the left for the living.
Another difference with their church versus a typical American church
was they did not have regular seating for everyone. There were a few
chairs placed through out for elderly people, but other than that there
was no seating, since the attendees regularly kneeled during their
service. Overall the Romanian Christian Orthodox church was a warming
Day two of the trip to Romania has been quite eventful. To
start the day we were able to attend a beautiful church service, where
the community welcomed us warmly. While standing in the back of the
church, we were given icon cards that pictured St. Elijah which are used
to help assist in the praying for the individual. These services are
much different than the services that I am accustomed too. Not only is
the length of the services much longer, but persons taking part move
around freely from inside to outside of the church. Also, there are not
seats for everyone in attendance. The only seats that are available are
on the outer edge of the church and outside. I enjoyed being a part of
the services to see how others expressed their faith and traditions.
After the service we were lucky to be able to speak with two
survivors of communism. Each had a very unique story much different than
the other. The first gentleman we spoke with was 85 years old and had
been imprisoned for being a legionary. That means he was held
responsible for what his father had done and was accused of following
his example. He explained the conditions that he had to suffer through
just to be freed and followed. The second gentleman was 84 and told of
the story of how he avoided being arrested. He was from a province that
is now part of Ukraine, but fled from the Soviet invasion. Throughout
his life he was followed, questioned, and denied permission to leave to
America because of "bad information in his file". He had to give up his
passion of agricultural science research because of his bad file, which
caused him to not receive jobs. These files were fabricated by the
Secret Police, called the Securitate. Hearing both men talk in such
detail about what experiences they had made me really appreciate the
simplicity of my life.
Lastly, a first time experience for myself was the encounter with
homeless children and persons on the street. It is not uncommon to see
homeless adults in the Peoria area, but how many children that are
homeless and begging for food shocked me. When walking back from dinner,
I did not finish my food so I had to carry a box back. While standing
at a stoplight, the children saw this and tried to get the food. I was
not prepared for them to come right up and have them take it almost
right out of my hand. As crazy of an experience as that was, it allowed
me to see how different this community is from ours at home, and
understand the struggle of some of the youth here in Bucharest.
Today was our first full day in Romania. We started the day off with
breakfast at the hotel before we left for church. As a group we walked
to a nearby Orthodox church to observe their worship. The service was
fairly informal in a sense, because people would come and go as they
pleased and others would stand or gather outside the door to listen to
the sermon. The church was under renovation and there was no air
conditioning, so it was extremely hot! I know I had trouble staying
inside because it was a full room and it was so hot, but other
churchgoers must be used to this because they seemed to have no problems
with the heat.
After the church service we met with two gentlemen that survived the
communist regime along, with a local architect that was very
knowledgeable about the history of Romania. This made everything we have
heard and learned thus far about what happened before the fall of
communism seem very real. It is so sad what all of these people went
through. Tavi had to translate for us because neither of the men spoke
English. The first man that spoke- you could see the passion in his eyes
and how much he was affected by being imprisoned for no reason, and the
utter pain he endured. It just blows my mind that these innocent people
were imprisoned and tortured for things as simple as being educated or
looked up too by other people.
I am excited to learn more about the history of Romania, but it
brings up many emotions, and you cannot help but to feel incredibly sad
for meeting actual people that lived through communism. Before this trip
I did not understand much about a communist government, but just after
our first full day I am learning so much.
On our first full day here in Bucharest, we visited an Orthodox
worship service. The service took place in a big wooden area that was
decorated with different religious persons on the ceiling and on the
walls. People were able to walk in and out of the service as they
pleased. Some sat in chairs, prayed on their knees, or chose to stand
up. There was no air conditioning in the building, and I noticed many
people brought paper fans to cool off with. Outside the church was an
area to light candles and to either make a prayer for you or for someone
who has passed away. There were already lit candles, and we lit ours
from those, and the prayers for yourself went on the left, and for the
deceased were placed on the right.
After the church service, our group gathered in the church and heard
from two survivors from the communist prisons. Both survivors were in
their 80s. The first gentlemen told us that he was not able to finish
high school because his dad got arrested. It is just unbelievable how
his father's actions fell upon him and his family and prevented him from
finishing his education. He then went on to say that he went to prison
when he was 26 and endured awful beatings and torture. Something
interesting that happened during the service was a lady came over to us
and gave us each a card. The card was had a picture of this a man named
Saint Elijah, and we learned how you pray to him and he will take those
prayers to God. I thought it was very nice that she took time to make us
feel more welcome.
During class, Ioana Hasu explained how the families did not know what
their family members went through when survivors came home after being
released, because everyone was afraid to talk about it. I personally
could not fathom denying what a family member went through. Communism as
a whole knew they had to demolish the existing order to have a change.
Communism used fear in order to reach this. I learned so much from
listening to the two survivors and going to an Orthodox service. I am
excited to attend the second service next weekend!