Slow Down and Stop to Smell the Daffodils

As a child, I traveled with my family and as part of school trips – which also led to me writing my first travel article at the young age of 15, but it wasn’t until I turned 19 that I put together and went on my first independent trip. I am still amazed I pulled it off, actually!

In the summer of 2000, I was just finishing my first year of University and was attending some English classes held by volunteers from the UK. I made friends with the girls teaching the classes and with some of the fellow students. Somehow, the idea of going to Sighisoara (Romania) for the Medieval Festival sprang into our minds. Why Sighisoara? Because I’ve always been fascinated by castles and medieval towns.

We put the trip together quite fast. I remember one of the boys giving me a phone number and the name of a local lady, and we were all set up. We arrived in Sighisoara by train, took a taxi to the address, and a lovely lady greeted us (with a distinct Hungarian accent). I was hooked! I loved the town the second I arrived, and our host made our stay very pleasant.

She told us the shortest way to get to the citadel and what we would see along the way. I didn’t even need to use anything than my own two legs to get around. She also invited us to eat Sunday lunch with her family. I still remember feeling so…at home. I’m born and raised in Transylvania, and the Sunday lunch is a big deal here. Staying in someone’s home rather than at the hotel or hostel made me feel so much better about my first independent trip. It also allowed me to get to know the people who live at the footsteps of the incredible medieval citadel.

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I left the city knowing that I would be back as soon as possible. I had fallen in love with Sighisoara and had the distinct feeling that I had been there before.

At that age I didn’t know much about traveling, I just knew I wanted to travel. A lot. And we took things slowly, exploring every single building in the citadel and enjoying the simple truth that we have just discovered a lovely jewel in our own country. I also knew I wanted to tell the world about the places I had discovered.

In 2001, I went back in Sighisoara with two girl friends. We planned to stay there for a week, again during the Medieval Festival. I still had the number of that lady we stayed with the year before, but I decided to take another approach. This was the time when the IRC (Internet Relay Chat) was booming, so, I talked to a guy from Sighisoara, and his mom offered us a room for a week. This time we stayed much further from the citadel – a good 35 min walk.

At that age I didn’t know much about traveling, I just knew I wanted to travel.

We picked up a booklet and decided to tick off all important buildings. Our days were filled with finding the towers and walking for hours in and around the citadel. Sighisoara had now become an addiction. The medieval music, the arts and crafts, everything about those days during the Festival was amazing! And although it was my second time in the city, I took things slow, dodging the other travelers and not just pretending I had just ticked off another thing from my bucket list.

I quickly learned that traveling makes me really happy. At that time I was only doing translation work (Romanian – English – Romanian) but hadn’t (re)started writing. However, I knew I had to do something about the bug that just bit me. My hands were itching to put my feelings on paper.

While still in school I started working in a travel agency, and by the end of the University years, I opened my own business. I was young and without experience but had a dream, which was pretty much crushed before making it a reality, but you know how things go – what doesn’t kill you makes you strong. And it did, plus it gave me the opportunity to do what I really wanted to do – write!  So I took small writing jobs, in English, and soon enough I had the courage to open a blog that ironically was hosted by Bootsnall (by late 2007 I was writing for Bootsnall).

Between 2003 and 2007 , I didn’t do much traveling, and although my feet were itching for more , I didn’t stop to think what was actually wrong. It wasn’t until 2008 that I finally realized what made me unhappy.

My ex was on a business trip in Bacau (Romania) and he was able to bring me along for the remaining 3 weeks. We stayed in a 3-star hotel , complete with wi-fi, cable TV, AC/heating, bathroom en-suite, and buffet breakfast.

Working online meant I could take the laptop with me and do my job wherever I had internet access. Work-wise, it was one of the best periods: I had my first feature article published on Bootsnall. But I spent my weekdays working and my weekends with my ex at the local shopping center instead of exploring. I was miserable as I was living someone else’s dream and my nightmare. That’s not what I wanted to do while in another city. It was the first time that I traveled when I just wanted to get out of there and get back home as soon as possible. I was even looking for flights back home but eventually gave it up and waited for the three weeks to end.

And then it hit me: my ex and I had totally different views of what constitutes traveling. And it has taken me 6 years to figure that out despite the fact that my parents were always asked me why I stopped traveling.

Work-wise, it was one of the best periods, but I spent my weekdays working and my weekends with my ex at the local shopping center instead of exploring. I was miserable as I was living someone else’s dream and my nightmare.

We came back home. The next two summers, nothing worked the way I wanted to. I was hoping to go back to Vienna (after a trip in 2008 which wasn’t exactly the way I wanted it to be), planned to visit Greee, but I was still miserable doing the same old things (visiting my ex in-laws and “our friends” in Bucharest). Being a travel writer kept me sane , though.

In the summer of 2009 I got a tattoo while in Bucharest. In theory it was meant to symbolize the weight I had kept off for 3 years. In practice, it became much more. It was the clear end of an era, of a relationship, of a way of life. I was starting to look for my freedom, which came late that year when the relationship ended (we both agreed we should end things, eventually).

Part of healing my wounds was figuring out why I was unhappy before. Aside from the obvious issues in the relationship, the travel part seemed to surface, too. It’s said that opposites attract, but what happens when those two opposites have different ideas about what was an important aspect of one’s life – in this case traveling?  At least one of them will be miserable all the time. I wanted to visit a new country each year. He was happy visiting his parents each summer. I was dreaming of visiting all European capitals. He was dreaming of staying in Bucharest at our friends.

So I mended my heart, put my life back together, and started to dream.  I started to tick off things from my bucket list, and London was one of the places that re-opened my appetite for traveling.

 

 

In late 2010 I had won two round trip tickets to the destination of my choice (thanks to an article I wrote). And I chose London. I didn’t know who I was going to travel with, but I ended up going with my boyfriend (and all-time best friend, now my husband). We pretty much had a shoe string budget for London, but we were at our happiest. I got tipsy in a pub, I almost froze while watching the changing of the guards, and I spent so much time in British Museum that my feet hurt when I got back to the hotel. Most importantly, we took things slow, stopping to smell the roses (ok, daffodils in Hyde Park), and soaking up the feeling of the city. With a map in hand and two travel day cards in our pockets, we started exploring, without a set plan. But at the end of the day, we were so pleased and so happy.

So I mended my heart, put my life back together, and started to dream.

During the same year, we went to Budapest twice. First, in July. We decided to camp close to the city center (“close” is used a bit loosely here). Out of the 5 days in the city, it rained on 3 of them. Our tent got soaked, we got rained on too many times to remember. We didn’t care. We were together and happy.

 

We traveled more in the next few years – going to Christmas markets and hiking around our hometown.  I was finally doing what I loved to do again: exploring places, soaking up the atmosphere in local coffee shops, buying small things to bring back home.   We weren’t rushing anywhere. Time didn’t matter.

A recent trip to Italy and Greece got me hooked yet again.  When in Athens, our guide, Paul, told us about how he used to backpack around Europe when he was younger. We connected and became friends (and still talk over Skype). I learned so much about the Greek culture on that 2 ½ h tour that no history book could ever cover.

Travel has shaped my personality through the years and made me fall in love with places. It also allowed me to meet amazing people and learn the history of the places from someone living there.

We weren’t even back home in Arad that we started to make plans for a longer stay in Athens. I clearly remember my husband saying: “I want to learn Greek. That’s how we can travel to remote areas. And you need to renew that driving license of yours.” A dream was born. Currently, we are making plans to visit Athens again , along with some islands next year (for our wedding anniversary). And I also hope to be able to live in Athens for at least a month in the coming future.

Had it not been for that first trip to Sighisoara (2000), I probably would have never understood that traveling and writing about travel is what makes me happy. But it was the horrible trip to Bacau which opened my eyes and shook me to the core. I realized then that something was “off” and things couldn’t carry on the same way as before.

Travel has shaped my personality through the years and made me fall in love with places. It also allowed me to meet amazing people and learn the history of the places from someone living there…there’s no guidebook which can do the same thing.

The trip to Bacau opened my eyes. The trip to London healed my wounds, and the trip to Athens touched my soul. Who knows what tomorrow might bring, but I can assure you that I’ll be happy traveling the way I feel!

Read more inspirational travel stories from normal people who have made travel a top priority and check out resources to help you do the same:

Photos by: Sighisoara – Ray Morris 1 ; Bucharest – Panoramas ; Budapest, Athens, Vieste – Cristina Puscas

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