In which I share some thoughts on leaving Ireland, and the children assure me they’re not sociopaths

It’s nine o clock on a Monday night, our last in Ireland. Even though we’ve got a few stops before getting back to Denver, this day feels like the end of the year we had planned. Ireland is giving us a proper Irish goodbye, with gray rainy weather and low cloudy skies. You’d think that packing up a life of six months with all of its attendant detritus would be overwhelming, but not really. Over the last few weeks, we’ve packed 4 duffle bags, one large, one medium, and one small, and one extra small rather like the bears of fairy tale, or perhaps like luggage matroyshka dolls, and have sent them across the ocean with those who have come to visit. What was left was clothing, some shoes, a few souvenirs, and lots of mugs, which we couldn’t really send home early as we needed them for our daily morning tea. At this point, we’ve managed to pack everything we are taking with us into our original travel backpacks, plus one additional small backpack for each of us and one extra medium sized duffle bag. 
Today was spent packing for a few hours, after which our friend Alena came by to cart away things which were staying behind, including those which she had kindly lent to us, like her bicycle and a corkscrew. We also packed grocery bags full with food that wouldn’t get eaten, though as for that we did pretty well and didn’t have mass quantities of food to give away. After she left, there wasn’t much to do until the last load of laundry finished drying so we piled into our rental car and Eric and the kids went swimming while I went to a coffeeshop to finish up the last blog post. Pizza for lunch, then a matinee showing of “Wonder Woman” (mostly liked, can’t say I loved) and then back home.
The kids took off on their bike (singular, yes, as the boy rides the bike and the girl rides standing on pegs that stick out from the back wheels) over to their friend V’s house a few blocks away, their last hour of being able to take off and simply yell “we’re going out!” that they’ll have for a while. They said goodbye and then left the bike there for V before walking over to their friend S’s house, who ended up trotting home with them. They all played a card game called Exploding Kittens, but not before first creating a Minecraft world in which one could actually make a kitten explode so that when a poor feline was decimated in the card game, they could recreate this in the pixellated world. I expressed my concerns about animal cruelty and it’s future bearing on sociopathy, however they seemed unfazed, and reassured me that no actual kittens were being harmed.  

I have trouble characterizing my feelings today, as it comes at the end of what feels like a fairly epic journey. Wistful, perhaps, comes closest, but not quite. I relate it to the feeling of having completed some big event in your life, and once it’s over, feeling a sort of empty space inside where you previously held the emotion you used in planning the event and then experiencing it. Even though I know the adventure isn’t entirely over, for in less than two months we’ll be moving to New Zealand, it’ll be different in that instead of bouncing around from place to place in a peripatetic existence, we’ll be more rooted in one place and well, I’ll be back at work. Something about the thought of that fills me with profound sadness. There are those who never like to really go anywhere, to remain settled and find comfort in that. I’ve always been the opposite, mostly happy when I’m moving hither and to.

In two months I’ll be back in a hospital seeing patients again. I wish I could say that I really, really missed working, that a year away has made me realize how aimless my life is without my vocation, and that I’m itching to get back to use my skills again. I would, however, be lying. I’ve quite enjoyed being away from the high-stress world of medicine and the headaches of hospital administration. This isn’t to say that I think I’ll be unhappy once working again, but just to say that life without it hasn’t been the doldrum plodding I’d feared.

Mostly I think I’m feeling the inexorable passing of time, in that I cannot believe all that has passed since we left home. Looking back, there are perhaps a few things I’d do differently, but sitting here it’s hard to say exactly what those would be. Friends, it’s been a full year, and I hope I can say the same after the next. 

In which I say goodbye to Romania, and have one last madcap adventure

It’s our last few days here in Romania. We packed up all of our stuff we wanted shipped to Ireland, since we’re traveling for 2 weeks before we get there. It all fit into seven smallish boxes that we took to the one post office in town that handles international packages. To demonstrate our ridiculous helplessness at basic life skills here, we had four helpers to assist us mailing packages. Three of these were Eric’s delightful students here, and the fourth was Rob, who has become our guide here of “How to manage Romania as an American.”

They led us through the process of filling paperwork, then giving it to the clerk to check before sealing packages, then weighing them, getting the paperwork stamped, putting the paperwork into little pouches and sticking those on the boxes. While this was happening I heard a sound that instantly took me back to childhood, a whirring, clicking, beeping noise. I followed the sound and it took me to…a DOT MATRIX PRINTER. I stared at the relic, remembering hours of lining up the dots, then carefully tearing the edges off at the perforations.  

We followed with a lunch at a local restaurant, where we had lively discussions about the new Gilmore Girls revival, the Romanian job market, and how to steal cable. 

It’s no secret I wasn’t all that excited about Romania when we first found out we were coming here. Romania? I thought, picturing dreary landscapes with concrete blocks for miles, lines to pick up milk and eggs, and scheduled power outages. People shuffling around despondently, grandmothers with scarves tied over their ears and men with cylindrical furry hats. And when we first got here, it seemed that this would indeed be the case. 
But over time, as we learned the layout of the city, where to find things, how to do things, and I was able to let go of some of my own doubts and fears, it became increasingly warm to us. Unsurprisingly, people react to who they see, and the more open and friendly we were, the more we got in return. 

We learned so much about the world of Communism and dictatorship, what that really felt like, and the lasting impact it still has here.

Things change when you are able to build community somewhere, which makes anywhere seem like home. I’ve had more lonely and dreary times in some of the world’s best cities than I’ve had here. 

And I leave with a feeling of sadness that we’re not staying for longer to let that community grow, as it feels we’ve only just started. I’m sure we’ll find the same, and even more in Ireland as the kids will be in school and, well, we can speak the language. 

Timisoara occupies a warm place in my heart, and I’m happy that we ended up here after all. Had we been in a more Westernized city, I don’t know that we would have been able to make the same connections that we did. 

I’ll share one last story from Timisoara here, something that just wouldn’t have happened back home. The kids and I had gone to see Rogue One (excellent, btw) and hopped in a cab to take us to Viniloteca. Eric was working as assistant bartender for the night, and when we got there, he was flitting about from table to table with a frantic energy. I had run out of cash, so grabbed a 10 lei note from Eric, ran back out to pay the taxi and headed in. Lots of people were there for the amusement of watching Eric work, including many of his students. We chatted with some friends who were there, and I had a nice conversation about the differences in hospital organization with a young medical student. Eric asked me then to take pictures to document his night of servitude, and I reached in my pocket for my phone. It wasn’t there. I then searched my backpack, the kids’ pockets, and my pockets again, but to no avail. 
I used Eric’s phone to track it, and saw that my phone was making its merry way around Timisoara, having some fun at the mall, then heading back to city center. Clearly, I had left it in the taxi. I rang the phone remotely, hoping the driver would find the phone and bring it back, and a few times the taxi did seem it was heading back my way, only to turn in a different direction. Emile, upon hearing my plight, tried to call the taxi company to see if they could track down the driver, but was told “this is not possible.” A few other people tried to call also with the same result. At one point I had a few people clustered around me, watching my phone’s progress around the city – it had become a bar-wide event. The battery indicator of my phone, which shows up when you’re tracking it, was at an unnerving 8%. There was only one thing left to do, which was track it down ourselves. Three of Eric’s students, Dena, Roxy, and Roxi decided to help me out. They called another cab that was there in five minutes. In the meantime we changed into trenchcoats and fedoras so as to feel like we were truly private detectives on a mission, well, at least mentally we did. “Who’s going to yell ‘follow that cab’?!” I asked the girls. 
We got in the cab, they told the story to the taxi driver and while tracking my phone yelled out streets for him to go to. He picked up his phone and called the dispatcher to try and call the taxi, but that driver never picked up. I would refresh the screen, call out the street “Tigrelui!!” The girls would respond in unison “tigrelui street!” And then the driver would say “tigrelui!” Into his cell phone, talking to the dispatcher, he too now fully invested in the hunt. We followed my phone around, the battery becoming ever more depleted, until it stopped moving on a small side street. We drove down the street and off to the side, in a small lot, was the taxi I had taken! The interior dome light was on and I yelled excitedly “That’s it!” The girls and I piled out of the car and surrounded the taxi with the stolen goods. I peered in the passenger window and spied my phone on the seat “There it is!” I couldn’t believe we’d actually tracked the phone down. 
I tried to open the passenger door but it was locked. The driver got out of the car, looking incredulous at being tracked down. He stammered some lame explanation of planning to give the phone back tomorrow, which was clearly a lie. The girls and he bantered in Romanian before he finally got into the car and picked up my phone, continuing his false excuses. He gave it one last longing look then opened the passenger door and handed it back to me. We scrambled back to our car, hooting in exhiliration. On the way back home, after dropping the girls off, the taxi driver told me how happy he was we got the phone back, which was sweet. I paid him double the meter reading, a whole $15, which was a small price to pay for getting my phone back, and in all what ended up being a fun adventure. (Not that I wish to replicate the experience!)

Us, trying to look like badass detectives

I recently changed the settings on my phone’s Weather app, deleting some cities which we didn’t need anymore – Tokyo, Saigon. My kids saw what I was doing and said to me, “Make sure you always keep Timisoara on, Mom, because it’s another place we’ve called home.”
And you know what? I think I will. 

At the airport, saying goodbye with Romanian wine


In which we go back in time a bit and chat about Slovakia

Eric did a moving write up about our family in Slovakia and how wonderful it was to meet them. They greeted us like we were close friends who they hadn’t seen in a while, not like people whom they hadn’t before met. I’m still blown away by how welcoming and generous they all were to us and hope that we are able to reciprocate in the future. 
I would like to write a bit about Bratislava itself though, to keep up with the travelogueing. 
Before I get into the time there, though, I feel I must go back and tell you about our Romanian taxi driver who got us to our car rental agency. All four of us had walked out of the flat early morning of our departure, hoping to find an easy taxi. None seemed to drive by so we walked over to the nearby grocery store, where you can usually find a waiting taxi, but not today. Just as we were contemplating walking over to the mall taxi stand instead, one drives up. Eric walks over and asks if he is free, and he burbles back to us in Romanian that he is here on a call and that if you wish for a taxi you must call one. Dismayed, we started to walk off but he signaled us back and told us to wait for a moment as he would call a cab for us. “How nice!” we thought. 

When his customer came over, holding a bag of groceries, she got in the back of the cab and I expected they would take off. Instead, he began to chatter with her in rapid Romanian which I could hear through his open window, and she then proceeded to get out of the back, get into the front seat, and then he opened the trunk and gestured for all four of us to squeeze in the back. Apparently, the plan was now that he’d drop the woman off at her place and then take us since it was kind of on the way. The girl squeezed onto my lap and off we went. Eric soon switched into the front seat and for the rest of the ride, in broken Romanian and English helped along with Google translate, we had a fun ride and a conversation, focused on the kids, life in Romania. At one point he looked at us and asked, “George Bush?” To which we gave a horrified “No nononono!”response . Along the way his phone rang and he had a short conversation in Romanian, though we could make out the words “America!” and “Obama!”amongst the palaver. When we told him that the kids liked Romania, he answered “super!!” in such a sweet way (pronounced “su-PEAR!”), genuinely delighted that our family was enjoying his country. All this to show one example of the great interactions we have had here. 
Alright, back to Slovakia! We drove across Hungary to get to Slovakia, and I mused that it no longer seems strange to just drive across an entire country in one day. It was about 5 hours of driving, which barely gets you out of most states back home.

Eric’s relative Eva lives in Nitra, which is a bit outside Bratislava, the main city and capital of Slovakia. A pretty small European town, the only real sightseeing we did there was to see the castle, interesting chiefly for its opulent cathedral, touted as one of the oldest in Europe. It really is stunning inside, though I have to admit that sometimes cathedral interiors feel a bit overdone to me. Everything shines about in gilded facades and every surface is painted with saintly scenes, sometimes it can be visually overwhelming, like a bad “after” from an episode of Trading Spaces. 

We made it to Bratislava in the evening and met up with Denisa and Edmund, Eva’s daughter and son-in-law, or Eric’s third cousin. I looked up a chart of those weird relationship things and discovered that Eva is technically a second cousin twice removed! I’ve always wanted to say that and now I can! Eva had gone through some trouble to find us the perfect flat in the middle of Old Town Bratislava, so we were well situated. Side note: I really much prefer the old name of Posovny. Bratislava just sounds so…brutal…and like the name of a country, not a city. Posovny is so much more romantic! Perhaps the civic leaders will take heed of my blog and take the appropriate steps.

Old town Bratislava is lovely, with narrow pathways through old stone buildings. Once you leave the picturesque old town area, though, Bratislava reverts into a fairly typical landscape of paved streets and commercial buildings, so we scurried back to old town as quickly as we could. We rounded a corner and stopped to see a man coming out of a sewer grate! The tourists posing with him were a bit curious, until we got close enough to see that it was a statue! There are several such statues around the old town area and we made good fools of ourselves for pictures like everyone else. 

That evening Eric’s cousins treated us to the UFO, a saucer like structure on top of a bridge pylon, which overlooks the entire city & Danube river. We wandered about on the top deck, open to the elements and looked over the view. The kids played about on a set of stairs, which made me a bit nervous given that we were, oh, 300 feet above the water. Afterwards we went into the thankfully enclosed space below and had a cocktail and cheerful conversation with our new cousins, watching the sun set over Bratislava.