Arts Lab Report: Volunteer traveling in Romania

August is here and it has been a blast. Many things had happened in such a short amount of time. Many ups and down but in the end it was probably the most memorable month for me. 

The month started off with the Mid term training we had with the tutors Sonia and Ioana. Comparing to the On-arrival training, the group has become much more smaller but at the same time the interaction between other participants has become much more closer. The tutors were really kind and I’ve got to know some other participants that I got to meet in person this month. Not doing the conference in person in Brașov was a bit demotivating but soon enough after the first two days I was motivated to participate as I had the opportunity to meet new people.

Right after the online training, the organisation started the caravan event. Due to the whole pandemic the program has been delayed by many months as we couldn’t be giving out workshops to a big group of crowd. The first event took place in Butea, a village nearby. It was for sure a learning experience because it was for me the first time I am giving out a workshop to a group of kids who I never met before. I tried entertaining them with the different functions of camera like slow motion, time-lapse and even digitally stabilized shots, but most of them looked like they were bored and wanted to go home. I tried at least. What I did learn is that with children, you have to think like them and try to find a way to have fun rather than finding a way to educate them.

Not everything about the Caravan was a train-wreck. Right after the workshops we visited a local museum that displays traditional decorations, clothes and tools of the village of Butea. It was fascinating to see up close all these colorful and aged objects as I never seen something like this before. There was also a group of local seniors where one of them was a harmonica player who knew how to play every single traditional Moldavian folk songs, a woman who knew how to recite poems and sang along to the tunes of the harmonica, accompanied by two women who danced and knitted cloth pieces. The whole ambience made me feel like I traveled back in time to see how a Moldavian village was back then. I, of course, recorded this event and edited it for the Folcloristica program. It’s online in the Super Tineri page if you want to check it out.  

Right after the event, I had to quickly edit the video of Butea before going on my two week holiday. After staying in Târgu Frumos for over 5 months, it was strange getting to go far away but at the same time it was a moment that I said “Finally! I am going to get to know the diverse faces of Romania!”. My first destination was Cluj Napoca. Why Cluj? Because during the week I arrived, the Transylvania Film Festival was happening and I was dying to see a film in the big screen. Back in Madrid, I was watching one or two films every week in the cinema and the quarantine wasn’t allowing me to maintain that habit. So when I arrived on Cluj, it was so delightful to be watching films again while walking around the cultural city of Cluj. Not to forget, I met the Mid term tutor Sonia and one of the local volunteer, Teunike! It felt heart-warming getting to know the people you talked online in person.

The next destination was Oradea. Strange right? When people talk about Romania, they barely ever mention about this city. Well, as someone who has been there, I can tell it is a beautiful city. It is close to the border of Hungary so you can feel the Austro-Hungarian influence in the infrastructure. In Oradea, we were received with open arms of the good hearth Spanish volunteers: Erik, Armando and Esther. I visited the whole city by bicycle and indeed, it is a wonderful city for sightseeing around the old city that has a river going through it. 

The travel to Timișoara was very tiring, my colleagues wanted to travel the lowest budget possible so we took a regional train at 4 in the morning and reached there by 9 AM. I was so tired of these low cost, energy consuming travels and the fact that I had been living and working with them for over 5 months made me took the decision to continue the travel by myself. In Timișoara I didn’t get to meet anyone new but traveling by myself finally gave me some space in my head. The Piața Unirii, Art Museum and the park was, of course, essential to visit. However, my biggest takeaway was the Communist consumer museum. It’s not an official or formal museum like the ones owned by the government or other private companies. What is incredible about it is that it’s a pretty underground bar where the owner happens to collect a lot of things back when Romania was under the Communist regime. It’s like a time capsule where you could witness how Romanians back then, lived their everyday life. 

In Sibiu, I met other Spanish volunteers that I were in the Mid term training. Andrea, Marina and Sonsoles were volunteers in Craiova and we were all excited to finally meet each other in person.  Visiting Sibiu with the girls felt like one of those friendly group travel where we lived in an apartment, cooking and sharing home-made foods. Sibiu reminded me of Toledo, a small ancient city that maintains the beauty for many years. Walking around the long wall, the old church and the picturesque bridge of lies was a unique experience. We also visited the ethnological park which recreated the traditional infrastructure of Romanian houses. It reminded of a video-game called Skyrim (although that game was more influenced by the Nordic culture).

I continued my travel with the others to Sighișoara, this ancient town on top of a hill. When arriving at this place, I could notice that it’s a very touristic spot by the price tags of every restaurant. Nevertheless, it did not take away the stunning charm of the place. The whole town was built on bricks and stones and it looked like it was of Gothic influence. The graveyard behind the covered stairway gave me an eerie feel of the place.

After Sighișoara, I continued my travel alone to Brașov. Among the places I visited, Brașov had so many things to do. Mainly it’s for the hiking possibilities around the city. The benefit of traveling alone is that you have the absolute liberty to do whatever you want without depending on others. When I arrived to Brașov, I rested in a hostel where I was the only occupant of the room and enjoyed some good meals around the city. After saving up money for the low cost travel, it was totally worth it to take a bite out of some fine lamb meat. Apart from the great food, I loved walking around the Tampa mountain where I could see the whole city. 

Outside Brașov, I visited a Bear sanctuary where I could see the ''ursus'' that we always talk about in Romania. Seeing the bear up-close, suffered by the cruelties of some circus group was sad to see but it was a gentle reminder that we as a human being can do much better than this. After that, I felt like hiking to see the beautiful nature in Transylvania. So, from the sanctuary I walked to Bran through the sunny green hills. It was so pleasant that I remember more of that walk rather than the touristic Bran castle itself.

From Sinaia, I achieved one of my biggest achievement, climbing the Bucegi mountain during some light rain. I started off in Sinaia, visiting the Peleș castle. Then, I took my full backpack, ate a roasted porumb and started climbing through the blue cross route. I already knew that my journey to the Babele peak was ambitious and mid way I had many occasions where I was thinking of quitting because of the light rain, muddy trail, not having a raincoat or proper hiking shoes. But I continued on-wards as I wanted to prove myself that I can. The views were not crystal clear that day because of the rainy clouds but still, it gave a mystical feeling. I lost my raincoat in one of the mini buses so I was getting wet all the time. To not get hypothermia, I was constantly rubbing my arms, changing t-shirt (I lost one of my favorite t-shirts by the way) and drying myself with a towel. After 4 hours of climbing, I reached the Babele where the sphinx stones were. It felt amazing to reach there all by myself and completing a hard challenge. There was a cable car on the peak and I was waiting to go down comfortably. However, after waiting over 1 hour, the line was not reducing and I got a phone call that the hostel lady had to leave at 8, which meant that I had 3 hours to get down the mountain. I went down as fast as possible through a dangerous trail where I had to often hang on to ropes and fences while encountering some goats staring at me. I fell a few times because of the muddy road but I was able to reach Bușteni in 2,5 hours and not the normal 4 hours. By the time I arrived at the hostel, I was soaking wet. That night I slept sound and well. 

After that grand adventure, most of my clothes were dirty and my trainers were wet. I could had continued to Tulcea to see the Danube Delta but it was clear for me that I had to return home.

I was sad that my vacation ended but I won’t forget about the amount of unforgettable events I had. When Monday came, we were in another local conference. Luckily, this time I didn’t had to prepare a workshop or presentation. My job then was just to record and edit. 

After the conference, it was all back to normal where I continued editing some promotional videos for the organization and gave out a workshop about how to shoot a dialogue scene. The dialogue workshop went a bit messy as the kids are not used to working together to shoot a scene but it’s pretty much everyone first experience when trying to shoot a short film. Editing videos felt dull now because there aren’t much variation in the projects.

What I did enjoy was the intercultural night. On the last Friday night, the local volunteers brought traditional Romanian foods like tochitură, mămăliga, papanași and more while wearing the traditional Moldavian dresses. We ate, we learned more about the culture and danced until the sun went down.

During the conference, I met Cristian, an entrepreneur who is thinking of promoting the virtualand augmented reality technology in the real estate business. He showed me all these different tools he had and the possibility behind it like, scanning a room with a 360 camera and viewing it from a computer/phone, interacting with others through VR and even scanning an infrastructure with a drone. It’s always intriguing seeing what these new technologies can offer to our fast changing world.

As you can see, a lot of things happened during the month of August and it’s probably going to be my most memorable one in years. Getting the opportunity to travel around the country was eye opening and meeting new people on the way was delightful. As all good things, it comes to an end but it doesn’t mean that there won’t be anymore experience like this. 

Written by Hanul Choi

Hanul is European volunteer for 8 months, in Arts Lab 2.0 project,  funded by European Solidarity Corps, with the support of European Union.


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