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The aftermath of the IWitness trip

The last time I posted I told you I was going “sometime soon” on an IWitness trip “somewhere”. Well… that’s not true anymore. Now that I’ve left the country I can safely tell you that I left for Jordan on Friday, May 8th, and left the country yesterday on Friday, May 15th. I flew into Romania to spend a day there, and then today I flew into Amsterdam for some R&R before returning to Canada on Wednesday.

I’m not going to go into major details on the experience because there are planned blog posts to the IKEA Foundation Blog in the near future, and I’ll be posting my blog entries to coincide with those. Needless to say, it was an experience of a lifetime. I met so many amazing people, I saw things that I never would have understood had I not seen them myself, and I’m very ready to take on the responsibility to share the story of these refugees.

So that’s the heavy stuff… and there’s more to come. But let’s talk about the “after”! I flew out of Amman on Friday, May 15th at 3:20am local time, which means I didn’t get any sleep – we got back from the mission around 10pm, and most of us went to a rooftop bar across the street to relax a bit. Myself and one of the UNHCR team were flying out around the same time, so we shared a cab around 11pm to go to the airport.

11251450_10155605508940038_1302310041_nMy flight left at 3:20am and it was actually a very pleasant flight – I’d never flown with Tarom before, but it turned out great. The flight was only about half full so I got a row to myself, which meant I basically stretched out, threw on my noise canceling headphones and tried to get some sleep. I’m not gonna claim I actually slept, but it was some variation of it which didn’t hurt.

I landed in Bucharest, Romania around 6am – customs and baggage were super super quick. A friend from the IKEA Service Office is from Romania, and put me in touch with a wonderful friend of hers who offered to pick me up from the airport and drive me to the train station, which was so kind of him, and saved me a lot of time and confusion.

At this point I was already feeling pretty loopy.

P1010743Adi dropped me off at the train station, came in with me to help get me my ticket and send me off on the correct train to Brasov, a lovely city which also happens to be very close to a famous castle – Bran Castle, or “Dracula’s Castle”, the former home of Vlad the Impaler. It was a 3 hour train ride from Bucharest to Brasov so I tried to sleep there a bit too, generally unsuccessfully. I arrived in Brasov around 10am and found a bus that took me to my hotel pretty quickly, which was nice – I found a good hotel in a pretty “downtown” location.

I checked in – room wasn’t ready yet, no problem – dropped off the bags and went in search of food. At this point I was beyond loopy and I think I just walked around in circles for a bit 😛 eventually I decided I really did need some food, so attempted to locate anything. I found a sign for a McDonalds… I KNOW. I KNOW. It’s not good, but… it was familiar, and it was there. Actually it wasn’t “there”, it took me quite a while to find it – it was actually in the town area, but I did eventually find it, and had a very satisfying quarter pounder.

After that I trudged back to the hotel, only to be told that my room was ready… I think I almost cried. THANK YOU!!!!!!!! Quick check in, beautiful room actually – it was a really nice hotel. I stripped and jumped into the shower ASAP, felt pretty yucky from my travel day so far. It was beautiful, though I think I almost fell asleep in the shower.

Dried off feeling 10x better, rested a bit until about noon and finally decided to make the trek up to Bran to see the castle. After all, if I’m in Romania, may as well see one of the most famous pieces of it, yes?

The hotel wasn’t very good at explaining how exactly to get to the castle, which was weird I thought, so I did some Googling and figured it out myself. Hopped on the bus to the central station, where I hopped on another bus to get to Bran. An hour later. My eyes were heaaaaaavy!

11216386_10155605515575038_1314499336_nEventually arrived in Bran, and could easily spot the castle by all the tourist traps and souvenir shops that were around. I made it into the castle, and lived to tell the tale – no blood missing as far as I know. It was a very interesting castle, most so because of all the small passage ways and intricate hallways and rooms. I’d very easily get lost there – my experience is most castles are a little more open, so this was an interesting one to see. The history actually focused much more broadly than Vlad, with only a couple rooms being dedicated to him, so it wasn’t really a Dracula focused tour as this castle actually has quite a bit of history to it, which was both interesting and disappointing since of course Dracula is the draw!

I spent about an hour there, and a while longer walking along the streets before deciding to catch the hour long bus back to Brasov. Upon arrival I navigated back to the hotel, and decided to have another little rest before dinner.

Around 6pm I ventured out into the town square area – which was extremely European, and I fell in love. I should actually say that Romania is quite beautiful, I loved the scenery. Anytime my eyes were open on my travels I saw much green, beautiful mountains and hills, and just very pretty surroundings. I’m sorry I didn’t have more time as there would have been wonderful hiking.

11121387_10155605521205038_1565397650_nAnyway, town square, very European, loved it. I quickly found an outdoor pizza place and had some of that lovely Italian thin crust pizza – some Salami pizza, to be exact. Oh… oh… it was so good. Just… yeah. Wonderful. I also had my first Gelato of the year, which was lovely as well. It was a good night.

I returned to the hotel and had a Facetime with my parents – I haven’t seen them since heading out to Jordan, and I know they were both concerned about me while I was gone, so I did message them daily but it was good to see them and share some of the experience.

After that I had a few things to do which I finished up, and went to bed for one of the soundest sleeps of my life.

Sadly, it was not nearly long enough… the last train from Brasov to Bucharest before the afternoon left at 9:30am (3hr train), and I had a flight out to Amsterdam at 3:30pm. This meant I had to leave the hotel around 8:30am to catch a bus to the train station, and then make sure I was on that train, as I had very little desire to shell out a hundred euro or so for a taxi.

I dragged myself out of bed, enjoyed the breakfast the hotel offered, and dragged myself to the bus stop. It was running a bit late so I was getting a bit worried, but everything worked out – I caught the 9:30am train from Brasov to Bucharest, and settled in for the 3 hour ride. It was pretty packed so I didn’t get any additional seats to myself, unfortunately, but I did manage to “sleep” a little bit, only leaving about 45 minutes at the end where I was awake (and bored).

I arrived in Bucharest around 12:30pm – I had planned to take a train from the station there to the airport, but discovered that the next one didn’t leave until 1:50pm and would take around 30 mins, which was too late for me, so I wound up getting a taxi which was very reasonably priced (I think around 25 ROD). Got to the airport in plenty of time, managed to check my bag in early, and breezed through security and customs.

For some reason I thought Romania was in the Schengen zone so I was surprised to have to go through passport control, but oh well. One more lineup.

I had some free time and some free internet so I setup shop and started to get through my work emails – figured I’d like to clear a few out so I didn’t have to worry about as many when I get back. That worked out well and passed the time until the flight.

I picked a seat in Row 5 which was nice – pretty full flight, but it was only about 4 hours I think, so I watched some TV episodes I had downloaded and it flew by pretty quickly. They also served a very pleasant meal on board which was surprising – good job Tarom!

11292749_10155605522745038_908420277_nI landed in Amsterdam around 5pm local time – customs and baggage was a breeze, and I just got that wonderful feeling of comfort and happiness as I stepped out of the airport. For some reason, I truly love Amsterdam – such a wonderful city.

I got a hotel for the night at an airport hotel as it was quite cheap, so I caught the shuttle to the hotel and setup shop. I took a shower to wash away the travel day, then grabbed the shuttle back to the airport, and the train to Amsterdam Central Station to venture out into the city.

I had read that there was an outdoor food festival going on – similar to our Rib Fest or tons of food trucks gathering, only about 10x bigger. IT WAS WONDERFUL!!!!!!! ZOMG!!!!

I had so much wonderful food. It was beautiful. I’m going back tomorrow.

11258582_10155605523805038_933813023_nI started off with a crepe with chocolate and banana. Then I got a small half pizza. Then I got a banana chocolate dessert (gotta stay healthy!). Then I got a small order of the BEST french fries ever, then I got a gelato.

11289589_10155605525230038_612906495_nIt was as perfect of a dinner as I could imagine 😛 I am absolutely going back for dinner tomorrow if I can make it. So delightful. And such a beautiful spot for it – in the middle of a park, water running through it – I get the chills thinking about it. How am I not living in Europe right now????

I walked back to the Central Station through the city… it was a beautiful walk. Took me about an hour. I was in heaven. Just had a wonderful time walking through the streets, stopping at some of the water ways, just loving everything. I felt incredibly content.

Eventually made it back to the Central Station and caught the train back to Schipol where I caught the bus to my hotel – wound up there around 10:30pm, and that is the end of my day.

It’s getting quite late here, and while I do get to sleep in tomorrow I really want to get some sleep, so I’m going to do a quick goodbye here. I’ll write more as I get through the next few days – exact plans are still up in the air, but I know for sure I’ll be in Brussels Tuesday night.

Ciao!