Back to Brasov: A Home Away from Home

Hi Friends and Family all over the world!

Sorry I’ve been off the blogging grid for a while! But while I’ve been away I’ve been to two countries: Romania & Germany!

You may be thinking…wait, wasn’t she JUST in Romania?! Yes. We finally had our “Fall Break” at school so I was able to jet off for an entire week to one of my favorite places in the world. It also helped this time that I had a wonderful person to meet me when I got off my plane in Bucharest. 🙂

Even though I was only there for 7 days, I was busy volunteering at the “Brasov Children’s Hospital” part-time, as well as enjoying magical Brasov. It was in a way surreal to be back in a place that I had lived in before. I felt like I was coming “home.” I knew the streets, the food, the people, the scenery. I took an early morning flight to Warsaw and then to Bucharest. I remember sitting on both flights feeling excited, anxious, restless. But it wasn’t until my second flight actually touched down in Romania that this wave of calm washed over me. It’s too expensive to fly back to the U.S.A. as much as I would love to visit home if only for a week. So landing in Romania felt like I was going home to something familiar. I had worked nonstop for weeks and now I could finally relax.

Sorin picked me up from the airport and we made our way to Brasov. But since it was a gorgeous and sunny fall day we decided to stop in Sinaia. Last time I was in Sinaia a couple of my volunteer friends and I took a train from Brasov to visit Peles Castle. If you want to read my blogpost about my time there in July you can read it here!

Sinaia is a quaint and lovely town nestled in the Carpathian mountains. It’s most notable for the forever stunning Peles Castle and the incredible scenery. I’m so glad that we had a chance to stop there to take some fun pictures and enjoy the perfect day! It was also kind of surreal being in Romania in a completely different season. When I was there in July you would have thought I was in Chicago in the middle of summer. I remember wearing shorts and a tank top to go volunteer and feeling immense dread every time I took the non air conditioned bus to the local village of Codlea. But this time it was truly the peak of fall. The leaves were all sorts of vibrant colors and there was a chill in the air. Not to mention it was right around Halloween time so it even felt a little spooky. 🙂

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Peles Castle in Sinaia, Romania

Me in front of Peles Castle in July and October

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He picked me up from the airport and took me to a castle, so I think I’ll keep him around 🙂

Brasov was just as beautiful as I remembered it to be. Lovely streets. Impressive mountains. And of course the famous “Brasov Hollywood Sign” at the top of Mount Tampa. Sorin and I walked the city center and circled around the base of the mountain to see the city from a higher point of view. I was like a kid kicking all of the fall leaves on the pathway.

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Back in Brasov
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Brasov from the road leading up to Poiana

In addition to visiting Brasov to relax I spent several days volunteering at the “Brasov Children’s Hospital” with “Firm Foundations Romania.” I can’t rave or speak highly enough of this magnificent organization. They work with the hospital, supplying volunteers to help assist with the babies and toddlers who are patients on different floors. For four days I was more than happy to ditch my dresses and leggings for some colorful scrubs. I wish when I was in Brasov in July that I would’ve had more time to volunteer with Firm Foundations, but I was so thankful to be able to meet some of the staff and help during this break. And here’s the best part: ANYONE can volunteer! Even if you’ve never worked in a hospital and you have little experience with children. It’s all about providing extra love and support to these babies who are either left there for long periods of time or who are regular patients. By the time I was at my last day volunteering I became so used to the routine and even attached to these babies. I joked with Sorin that I wanted to take home this beautiful little girl who was probably around 3 months old. In particular we had a little boy who was older than all of the other babies (he’s 4 years old) and he truly looked forward to seeing us every day. Four year olds should be in Preschool or playing with friends outside, they shouldn’t be in a hospital crib. So for him, the presence of a volunteer every day was something he absolutely loved. It was his time to just be a normal kid and play with all of the toys we carried in our bags. The hardest part of the time I spent there was having to leave the room with any babies or kids crying. I wish I could’ve volunteered there for weeks. I know I will absolutely be back and if you’re reading this now and you’d love to join me or learn more, feel free to let me know! Your time, care, and love can go such a long way.

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Volunteering in Brasov Children’s Hospital

The rest of my time in Brasov consisted of lots of good food (this girl loves some Romanian “Sarmale”-stuffed cabbage), more beautiful mountains, and plenty of movies. I probably watched more movies during that week than in the last 5 months. It was so hard for me to say goodbye again to somewhere that truly has such a special place in my heart. I cried plenty at the airport saying goodbye to Sorin and continued crying throughout passport control. Note to travelers: if you’re worried about being questioned at border control I highly suggest crying- you’ll be given that stamp so fast. But once I returned to Poland I felt so refreshed and re-inspiried. I had the most wonderful week, with an incredible person, in a place that’s the closest to home I’ll get here. I also had another feeling of complete reassurance that this is where I need to be in my life right now. I love traveling. I love meeting new people. I love the rush of it all. I love being able to take a 4 hour flight to another country for cheaper than a tank of gas in the USA. I love being able to give back with anything I have to give. It’s all about the journey.

All in all, Romania…it was so beyond lovely to see you again.

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Sorin and I

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In the next week or so I’ll be blogging about my time in Dresden this past weekend! I had never been to Germany before and it was a much needed and great weekend away with friends! Stay tuned!

All My Love,

Katrina

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How to Find “You” While Living Abroad

It’s officially been 3 months since I scanned that one way ticket to Bucharest. Time goes by fast and slow, all at the same time, when you’re living abroad. I’ve had my moments of elation, homesickness, confusion, euphoria, and every other emotion in between.  I sometimes have to remind myself that I’m not just visiting Poland or “backpacking around,” but that I actually LIVE here. It’s an exciting and daunting feeling, and I really switch between both. Sometimes I have to be patient with myself. If I feel “out of place” or  frustrated, I have to take a moment to kindly remind myself to “give yourself a freaking break” because it’s not just every day that you move your life from everything you know to something completely new. I’m not at all saying that I regret any of my choices to move abroad. It has been a life changing experience in more ways than I can possibly explain on this little blog post. But I guess I’m human and I’m still struggling and trying to figure out where “I” fit in here in this new chapter and this new place. I will say that what’s gotten me through any tough moments or what’s been a comfort is finding what makes me me while living abroad. I’ve had to find some normalcy to the craziness and the confusion at times. I think I’ve gotten to a good place with discovering what helps me feel more like Katrina and what makes this new country feel more like “home.” I can imagine other travelers have been here before, so I’d love to share what’s been of huge help to me during any times I’ve been struggling to find comforts abroad.

Find Your Own”Peace”

A couple years ago, when I was struggling with some anxiety, I discovered the magic that is yoga. If you know me I’m not one for hardcore exercise. I barely made it through 20 minutes of a P90X video during sophomore year. I can’t do any high impact exercise, such as running or biking for long periods of time because I break out in hives on my legs. FOR REAL. A doctor confirmed I’m allergic to exercise. It’s not an excuse I use often, but after a long Netflix binge it comes in handy. I was always looking for a physical outlet that I could do on my own time and in my own space. And while I have always loved to dance, you can’t always find a dance class while abroad or afford it at that rate. So yoga was and has always been the perfect fit for me. It allows me to practice anywhere, any time, and at my own pace. When I’m doing yoga, I feel in control of my body, mind, and spirit. I’m taking some time out of my day to “check in” with my heart and mind. So often we are all rushing through life and we forget to “check in” with ourselves. Yoga has always made me feel like I can take a full “body scan” of how I’m doing. There are times I’ve been in a yoga pose and I’ve started crying. I had no idea I was holding tension or emotions back until my body allowed me to relax and “check in.” Yoga is where I find my “peace” and it’s been incredibly helpful throughout my travel journey the last couple of months. I think it’s so important as a traveler or living abroad that you find your own “peace.” And of course, it could be anything: writing, running, sketching, painting, walking, exploring, seriously anything. But it has to be something that you can go back to when you’re stressed about visas, languages you can’t understand, and when your anxiety hits about being so far from home. Practicing yoga (literally anywhere- one time I did a warrior pose in the middle of a town square) has helped and enriched my new life living abroad.

Find Your “Familiars”

When living abroad, everything is brand new. Most of the time it’s incredibly exciting to be experiencing everything for the first time. But sometimes it can feel overwhelming. Whenever I’ve been in this situation I’ve tried to find some “familiars” to remind me that “Hey, I’m still me. I’m just in a new place. Everything is okay.” I can’t tell you exactly what your “familiars” need to be, because everyone is different, but I can say that they should be something that you associate with comfort or normalcy. These are things that bring you back to “you” when you’re feeling a little lost. Some of my “familiars” are: tea, pictures of family and friends, historical novels, spaghetti, my favorite dress, cooking, my down comforter, and candles. These are all things I had back at home and when I have them here, I feel instantly at ease because I know all of these things SO well. For me, tea is a HUGE “familiar.” I associate tea with one of my favorite people in the world (huge shoutout to Bonnie) and a hot cup of tea makes me feel like I’m back at home again. Here in Poland I still have a cup of breakfast tea every morning and another cup of tea at the end of the day because I used to do the same thing when I lived in Chicago. So it’s also routine for me. It brings me back to something I know and love. I hope every traveler can bring or find abroad things that are their “familiars.” It’s been a blessing on my unknown journey.

Find Your “People”

I would have to say that the hardest part about moving abroad for me was leaving my real family and my “family” in Chicago. It was so easy when if I needed to chat about something my best friend was 2 doors down or a 15 minute Red Line trip away. But when you’re traveling you inevitably meet new people. It’s one of the BEST parts of exploring our amazing world!! I’ve met so many different, incredible, and beautiful people from seriously all over this globe. They’ve all added something to my life and to my experience here in Europe. Once I arrived in Romania I met several of the volunteers I was going to be working with. We all got to know each other and eventually by the end of my time there we were all very close. We shared stories from home, many meals, nights in the city center, and experiences from our volunteer work. These people became my “people.” They became my “Romanian Family.” I had found some comfort in finding new friends on the first part of my journey. I think for any traveler it’s necessary that during your time abroad  you find your “people.” You need those people that you can trust, love, and share your crazy life with. I’ve been so lucky to also find my “people” over here in Poland. I’ve become really close with some amazing girls who are also fantastic teachers. We’ve bonded over this insane expat life, many late night kebabs, and lazy Sundays. I’m lucky to have found such lovely and amazing friends here. It’s helped me feel at “home.”

One of my friends here shared this quote with me: “However, you adjust; you get used to the little things and hope for the best.” And it really resonated with both of us. I mean, he was referring to his experience with WWII which is not at all comparable to my time abroad, but it’s the notion that you “can only do the best you can.” You have to be gentle with yourself, which is something I’ve always struggled with. Everything takes time. Anything new takes time to adjust to. You have to find “you” in the new, and remind yourself of where you came from and the amazing path you are currently on. I’m reminding myself of this every day. Never would I have thought this time a year ago that I would be sitting here in Poland, as a Kindergarten teacher at an American School, trying to give any advice on travel or living abroad. Living abroad thus far has been a blessing and a challenge. But it’s funny how you’re given the exact opportunities that the universe thinks you need at the time you need them. This chapter has opened this huge door of possibilities for me. It’s made me a smarter, stronger, and more independent woman. It’s also allowed me to find passions I didn’t know I had. But amongst everything new and all of the discoveries I’ve uncovered, I always come back to finding my “peace, familiars, and people.” It’s the little things in life that make all of the difference.

All My Love,

Katrina

 

Romanian Cooking in Poland: How To Make “Brasov Soup”

Hi Everyone!

Well I guess “Fall” is officially here in Poland because it’s freezing and pouring rain every single day. I checked with a native and I guess this is normal for Poland. So I’ve found myself a bit chilly and craving hot soup on these gloomy days.

Last weekend Sorin came to visit me and after a trip to the local Tesco we stocked up on ingredients to cook a homemade meal. We ended up making delicious Romanian soup and  a medley of baked vegetables with chicken. I’ve been here in Poland for a little over a month and I can’t even tell you how nice it was to have a home cooked meal. I was very spoiled in Brasov having my incredible “host Mom” making me Romanian dinners every night. So now that I’m finally in one place for a long period of time (with a market down the street) I’ve been attempting to cook more. Goodness knows I had everything I needed in my kitchen in Chicago, so it’s taken me a little time to gather things and adapt. But after Sorin and I made soup last weekend, I couldn’t get enough of it. It was just like the soup my grandmother used to make and my “host mom” in Brasov! It’s comfort food and it makes your soul happy. Plus it’s incredibly easy to make! Also chock full of fresh ingredients and vitamins! 🙂

Sorin was kind enough to pass along to me the recipe for this divine soup, so I thought I would share it with all of you! I’m actually in my kitchen right now trying to recreate what he made me last weekend (I don’t think I’m skilled enough in the “soup department” to make it exactly like he did.)

I don’t know the name of this soup, but since I ate it plenty of times in Brasov, I’m calling it “Brasov Soup.” Enjoy! Happy Cooking!

Brasov Soup

  • 1 Large Carrot (Peeled and Finely Chopped)
  • 2 Chicken Thighs (Sliced with or without skin to your liking)
  • 1 Large Onion (Finely Chopped)
  • 1 White Pepper or Red Pepper (Finely Chopped)
  • 2 Potatoes (Peeled and Chopped Into Small Bits)
  • A pot of water (3/4 full)
  • 2 Cubes of Chicken Broth Seasoning
  • A Bit of Freshly Minced Parsley
  • Salt, Pepper, and Paprika (To Taste)
  • A Half Box of Noodles (Broken to Small bits)
  • A Tablespoon of Tomato Sauce or Tomato Paste
  • A Tablespoon of Sunflower Oil or Olive Oilimage1

Directions:

  1. Boil a large pot of water
  2. Once water is boiling, add strips of chicken, cook for 25 minutes on medium high
  3. Add onion and cook for 5 minutes

image34. Add carrots and cook for 10 minutes

5. Add here olive oil or sunflower oil to taste

6. Add peppers and cook for 10 minutes

image27. Add salt, pepper, paprika, and tomato sauce (Stir well)

8. Add chicken cubes (Stir well)

image49. Check if chicken is cooked well, add potatoes

10. Check if chicken and potatoes are cooked thoroughly and add noodles

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11. Cook until noodles are soft. Your soup should look a lovely orange color! 🙂

image512. Remove from heat and sprinkle fresh parsley on top.

13. Stir well and serve hot with bread! image1

Enjoy!!

All My Love,

Katrina

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New Chapter: Dwarfs, Pierogies, and a Kindergarten Teacher (My New Life in Poland)

HELLO FROM WROCLAW, POLAND!!!!!!!!!

I never thought I would ever say that sentence, but it’s really true. I’m finally in Poland and I actually LIVE here.

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The last (almost) 3 months of my life have been an insane whirlwind of beautiful places, different languages, and incredible people. As I was unpacking here in Poland, I pulled out some goodbye letters and cards my best friends wrote me to read when I got on the plane to head to Bucharest. Rereading them took me back to that moment when they called my group for boarding on July 7th at O’Hare Airport, and I took a deep breath, walked down the jet bridge, and didn’t look back. I was lucky on that flight to have the seat next to me free so I was able to read my friends cards and sob in somewhat privacy (the guy across from me seriously seemed very concerned.) I remember in that moment feeling so uncertain, excited, and overwhelmed. The sincere words of love and support from my best friends gave me comfort in a moment that seemed so unbelievably daunting. And now several months later I’m unpacking their cards to place on my windowsill in my new room, and I still feel those same emotions of love and friendship. But this time I’m definitely more certain that I’m doing okay, I WILL be okay, and that new chapters are amazing. 

I am so sorry I didn’t post any more blogs while in Spain. Once my grandma and I left on our tour it was seriously NONSTOP (just like “Hamilton.”) We had 6:00am wake up calls, late bed times, and enough walking that my step counter should have exploded. But all you need to know about the rest of my time in Spain was that it was truly so beautiful. I’m so fortunate that I was able to share every moment with my grandma. She has always been my rock, my friend, and someone I can tell any thing to. We had always wanted to take a trip (just us) and it couldn’t have happened at a better time. We had plenty of laughs, sangria, and saw some incredible sights. I have to say though that a huge highlight for me was stepping inside Gaudi’s masterpiece: “La Sagrada Familia.” Seriously, WHAT A BUILDING. From the outside the details are so intricate that you could spend a whole day just walking around the church. But the inside is where Gaudi’s “magic” truly comes alive. When you step over the threshold, you are captivated by radiantly bold colors as the sun shines through thousands of stained glass panels. It was breathtaking…I teared up. “La Sagrada Familia” is by far the most magnificent church I’ve ever seen, and it’s ten years away from being deemed “finished.” The church has been under construction for over a century and it still boasts large cranes hovering above it and scaffolding in several places. It’s insane to believe that this masterpiece is also solely funded by donations and ticket sales. The architects are saying that it should be completed by 2026…so if anyone wants to know where you will find me that year, at some point I will absolutely be in Barcelona.

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Taking in all that is “La Sagrada Familia”
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Interior of “La Sagrada Familia”
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No Filter.

I also loved Seville and thought that we didn’t get to spend enough time there. It’s a city that I would love to return to one day. We strolled through some of the quarters, saw a flamenco show, and walked through the magnificent “Plaza De Espana.” Seville was the last city on our tour and by that time we were all a little burnt out from spending hours in a bus and battling extremely hot temperatures. Also Gibraltar was amazing simply for the fact that I got to hang out with monkeys. 

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This monkey was NOT amused, but I was. 🙂
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Tiny doors in Seville!
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New Friends on Top of the World

We spent the last night of our tour in Madrid and by 4:00am the next morning I was talking a black car to Madrid Airport, attempting to stay awake, while the driver blasted Sia’s “Cheap Thrills” on the radio. I was already dreading my flight to Poland from Spain. I now finally had both of my HUGE duffle bags with me and I knew I was going to have to fork over a couple hundred Euro to get them through check-in. But what I didn’t plan (as I was half asleep at the check-in counter) was being accosted by the desk agent for not having any paperwork to travel to Poland. While having a U.S. passport is very helpful in some situations (when traveling in Schengen areas they don’t even look at your picture at times), this very fierce Spanish woman was NOT having it that I didn’t have another visa and that my American travel visa for the EU is set to expire on November 8th. She literally told me she couldn’t let me through. Panic. PANIC. PANNICCCCCCC!! Yeah, I freaked out. I calmly explained to her that I was legally traveling throughout the EU (Americans get a 3 month travel visa) and that my time limit wasn’t up yet. Nope. She was not having it. She snapped at me and told me “if you don’t have a return ticket to the states I can’t let you get on that plane.” More panicking. So I put on my best smile and told her, “Ma’am. I am a teacher. I will be teaching in Poland. I have a work permit and I can make phone calls to the school if need be. I need you to understand that I HAVE to get on that plane. I start work tomorrow and I promise you I will get all of my paperwork done as soon as I get to Poland. Please, let me check my bags and get on that flight.” Well. After she made a couple scary sounding phone calls in Spanish, she finally told me she would let me through even though she really wasn’t supposed to. I didn’t even care about my overweight and extremely expensive luggage by that point. I quickly scurried over to security and made myself invisible. But all in all, I made it to Poland. I now have researched visa rules, Schengen vs. non-Schengen, and I will travel with a better peace of mind next time. If you’re planning on staying abroad for more than 3 months: do your research. Don’t do what I did.

I was just coming off such a high of being in stunning Romania and gorgeous Spain that when I got to Poland it all felt kind of surreal. It was one of those things where once the plane touched down I thought to myself, “you LIVE here now.” I wasn’t just passing through or staying for a couple weeks; this place was now my new home for a year. It was all starting to feel very real as I got to my new apartment and started unpacking my bags in a new empty room. It was also the first time I had had my own room in 2 months, so that in itself felt awesome and very strange all at once. The first thing I did was hang pictures of friends and family on my wall. I may have not had a real pillow or a sheet that first night, but I had my pictures on my wall and that’s all that mattered. It felt a little more like home.

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My Beautiful Friends and Family

Wroclaw is the largest city in western Poland and the Oder River cuts right through it. I live in a small suburb about 30 mins (by tram or bus) from the city centre. I was really spoiled in Romania as my homestay was in the center and every bar and restaurant in town was a few hundred steps outside my front door. But the city center here is really beautiful and lovely. Parts of it (mainly the architecture) remind me of Brasov, but it definitely has it’s own distinct vibe. One of my favorite parts of the city are the hundreds of tiny dwarf statues scattered all over! There are 300 statues in the city and it’s basically the ULTIMATE “Pokemon GO” hunt. Over my last couple of trips over to the center I’ve been able to spot a few of them.

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Wroclaw City Center
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Rynek

The city is also made up of several islands. One island is notorious for tons of young people. The place was packed and some other teachers and I found a spot on the grass and hung out there for a while. We eventually made a joke that everything happening on the island could be featured on a TV special titled: “Illegal in America.” We had a great time and plenty of laughs. Overall the center is a blast and you can find us there on the weekends dancing and celebrating! There’s also an island I’ve decided to call “Church Island” and it features a beautiful green bridge. On the bridge are thousands of “love locks” left by those willing to “lock up their love” in Wroclaw. I’ve always wanted to put a love lock on a bridge (specifically the one in Paris until they cut all of them off..) Legend also says that if you cross over the bridge, touch the lion statue in front of the church entrance at the end of the street, and then walk back over the same bridge, you’ll be married soon. I’ll let you know how that works out.

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The “Love Bridge” in Wroclaw
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Love Locks in Wroclaw
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New Beautiful Friends in Poland

A huge plus of living a little far from the center is that my work is only a 5 minute walk from my apartment (Yay for sleeping in longer!) The school is a small private Americanized school for families in the Wroclaw area. I have a classroom of 16 rambunctious and silly Kindergarteners, and I really love my job! I’ve always loved working with kids and this experience so far has been exciting and a great challenge for me. I’m doing a lot of planning, organizing, improving, and I’m always thinking on my feet. My B.F.A. is definitely coming in handy!! For the first time in my life I get to use my cool last name and it’s pretty neat when kids call me, “Miss Kiss.” It’s also easy for them to spell. The school is a mixture of faculty from all sorts of different places. There are a good handful of American teachers, some Croatian teachers, a teacher from Spain, and several Polish teachers. I’m really enjoying the camaraderie amongst all of the teachers and I’ve made some wonderful friends so far! We’re all hoping on some upcoming weekends we can travel to a couple different places and explore some more!

I can’t believe this is my third week here. Life goes by pretty quickly when you’re working and trying to settle in to a new place. I will admit I’ve had a couple bouts of homesickness over the last few weeks. I’ve cured it with listening to plenty of Sara Bareilles, eating my feelings, and sending a ton of Whats App messages to my friends and family. Also tea. Tea cures everything. 

I have no idea what this year living abroad is going to hold for me. But I’m here on this journey and I’m willing to give it my all, and to open my heart and mind to every possibility. I’ve fallen in love with Europe all over again, and I feel very lucky to feel support and love from back home and here in my new “home.”

Here’s to another chapter in the saga that is “Miss Kiss Abroad.” Stay tuned.

Love from Poland,

Katrina

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Rynek

The Gems Found Outside of Madrid

Our tour is finally underway and we are traveling all over the huge country of Spain in a coach bus (conveniently with Wifi!) But unlike most of our fellow tour friends, my Grandma and I spent a whole week in Madrid prior to our tour. If you’re thinking of traveling to Madrid you should absolutely consider taking day trips outside of the capital city. We were able to find tours through a company called Julia Travel. Unless you want to hire a private driver I’m pretty sure it’s the easiest way to check out these small gems surrounding Madrid. We went to: Avila, Segovia, Toledo, and Aranjuez. Each of them different in their own right, but all containing that Medieval Spanish “feel.”

Avila:

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Walls in Avila

When you arrive in Avila the first thing you notice are the walls surrounding the city. Avila is one of the only cities in Spain to have complete Romanesque walls and has been called the most complete 16th century city in Spain. It has its own charm and we probably were the only tour group in the entire town that morning. It was peaceful. The main place to visit in this city is the Convent of Santa Teresa. It’s a lovely little church containing several relics of the woman who joined a convent hundreds of years ago to bring the nuns back to a simpler life. Maybe they were having too good of a time? And eventually she became a Saint and now she’s very important to the town.. Overall, Avila was not my favorite city, but if you can take the tour that goes to Avila in the morning and then Segovia in the afternoon, I highly recommend it.

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Segovia:

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Standing in front of the incredible Roman aqueduct

This place has it all. Not only is it a beautifully preserved Medieval city, but it also boasts Roman structures, a gorgeous castle, and an incredible Cathedral. I really loved this city and if you have only one day to take a trip outside of Madrid, pick Segovia. You may have people telling you to go to Toledo, but I hope the next few photos change your mind. The first monument you see in the city is a Roman aqueduct and it has become a symbol of Segovia. It was built in 1st or early 2nd century CE by the Romans as a way to bring water from the mountains down into the city. Believe it or not, these Romans were so amazing that they were able to construct the aqueduct with 25,000 blocks of granite held together with….nothing. It’s an engineering feat and it was still being used until about 17 years ago.  It’s truly stunning and not to be missed. On the other side of the city stands another structure for which Segovia boasts as different treasure of the city- the Alcazar Castle. They say Walt Disney sketched “Cinderellas Castle” from pictures of Alcazar, and you almost believe it once you see its high walls, drawbridge, and many blue turrets. If you’ve been following along with my blog you know I LOVE a good castle. Although there was minor restoration happening on the front facade I managed to snap some pictures. The inside of the castle contains some impressive armor and several beautiful rooms. The Alcazar is known in history as being the place where infamous Queen Isabella was crowned Queen of Castile. Let’s just say…I would have no problem being Queen of this castle. Sign me up. My Grandma and I both enjoyed the short tour and if you have more than an hour or so to spend in Segovia, make sure to check it out! Another beautiful sight in the city is the cathedral. It was the last Gothic cathedral built in Spain and it’s considered a masterpiece. The inside is just as ornate as the facade and in the middle of the cathedral are two massive organs. I was so excited to actually see a organist at one of the organs playing some short hymns. It was truly lovely and made my musical heart happy.

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Found my knight in shining armor in Segovia
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STUNNING cathedral in Segovia
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Alcazar Castle in Segovia, Spain
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Alcazar Castle in Segovia, Spain

Toledo:

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Toledo, Spain

Many people say, “if you visit one place in Spain, let it be Toledo.” And while I agree that it’s an important historical city (it was the original capital of Spain after all) I do think that Segovia or even Zaragoza are more beautiful. But if you have the time to make a short day trip, for sure head over to Toledo. Nicknamed (and rightly so) “the City of Three Cultures”, Toledo is the ultimate melting pot of religion, culture, and architecture. Of course at first the Romans were there, but then eventually Jews, Muslims, and Christians were all peacefully living and practicing their own religions in one city. It was extremely liberal for the time and eventually Christianity became the predominant religion, but you can see hundreds of years of religious influence by all three religions in many parts of the town.  We walked through the city and visited the Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca  as well as the main cathedral commissioned by Queen Isabella. If you have time, absolutely take a walk across the Tagus River on the Medieval San Martin bridge and you may even see people zip lining across it! I would’ve totally tried if I wasn’t wearing a sundress or if we weren’t short on time! Toledo is a photographers dream and make sure you also take some time to walk through its beautiful streets. Don’t forget to look up as you’re walking as many of the buildings have gorgeous glass and metal balconies.

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Holy Toledo! 
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My Grandma & I

Aranjuez:

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A fountain at Aranjuez

Although there are not many tours that will take you to Aranjuez from Madrid, it is possible to take a tour on Julia Travel to this gorgeous palace. Again, I love castles and palaces, and found the Palace of Aranjuez to be just stunning. The afternoon we visited it was basically empty and without the usual crowds you may find in a major palace. It’s now one of the residences of the King of Spain, but it was built by King Phillip II in the mid-eighteenth century. Unfortunately I have no interior photos of the palace as pictures weren’t allowed. But we were able to tour several rooms including  some bedrooms, dining rooms, a ballroom, a gorgeous smoking room, and a room entirely made out of porcelain. Again for someone like me who loves anything royal, I really enjoyed walking through the palace. Afterwards make sure to spend a little time strolling in the royal gardens. The fountains are beautiful and when we went many of the flowers were in bloom. Although it was extremely hot it was still lovely and peaceful. You can see why these monarchs loved building private gardens (hey, hey Versailles) because they truly are a complete escape from what would’ve been a crazy life being a monarch. I still think I could maybeeee handle it. We also saw a couple of cute stray kittens in the gardens and of course I wanted to scoop them all up and take them back to our hotel.

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Can’t wait to move in! 

Over the last couple of days on our tour we’ve been up to the north of Spain to Burgos, Bilbao, San Sebastian, Vitoria, and now we’ve arrived in gorgeous Barcelona! Excited to be back here again. There’s so much to do and see that it’s truly impossible to do it all in only one and half days, but hopefully I’ll return again for maybe a little vacation from Poland! I’ll be sure to post about those other cities I mentioned above in a day or so.

Spain is great, but if see another selfie stick I swear I may become violent………………

All My Love. Adios.

Katrina

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Gato at Aranjuez Palace

Livin La Vida Loca or “My Favorite Things in Madrid”

Hey Family, Friends, fellow Wanderlusts, and awesome Bloggers!

In just one day I left the beautiful and quaint town of Brasov for the huge and eccentric city of Madrid and thought to myself, “Toto, we’re not in Romania anymore.” I’ve now been in Madrid for a week and it’s been a true whirlwind. Last Monday I left Brasov at 2:30am and took a 3 hour shuttle bus through the mountains (fearing for my life the entire time) to catch a flight to Spain. Somehow my bag weighed 4 kilos under the weight limit and I was off on another chapter of my journey.

I’ve renamed my blog from “Miss Kiss Volunteers” to “Miss Kiss Abroad” now that my volunteer trip in Romania has come to an end. Feel free to still follow me on this site and on instagram at @misskissabroad

Several months ago when I accepted my job in Poland I had to cut my time in Romania short by one month. The problem was I was going to leave Romania the first week of August and I didn’t have to be in Poland until August 28th or so. My Grandma has always been my best friend and my travel buddy. I firmly believe she gave me the “travel bug” when I was very little, and I’ve had it ever since. Once I figured out my schedule I jokingly asked her if she wanted to meet me in Spain for 3 weeks in between Romania and Poland. I’m not even sure why I ever assumed asking her to meet me in Spain would ever be considered a joke because of course she took it seriously, and now here we are in Madrid. She booked us a tour that takes us all over Spain, but we decided to meet a week early to explore Madrid on our own. Thank goodness we did because this city is MASSIVE. In my mind its on par with London and Paris in terms of size and things to explore. You can check multiple travel books on Madrid and they’ll list some of the “must see places” or “highlights” of Madrid, but we’ve seen a LOT in one week and I wanted to create my own list of favorites.

Madrid is different than any other metropolitan city I’ve been to in Europe simply because it’s in Spain. The Spanish way of life is essentially the opposite of the American way in every aspect (it’s better, sorry USA.) The goals in Madrid are as follows: eat whatever your heart desires, go to bed when ever, sleep in the afternoon, socialize with family and friends, and work only when you absolutely have to. Needless to say, I’m adapting to this way of life extremely well. But the city is very alive and when you visit don’t expect to always take it easy. There’s way too much to explore to expect to sit down every hour and have a glass of sangria (but also do this too if possible.) Anyways, I digress! In addition to exploring Madrid we have also had the chance to visit four of the surrounding cities of Madrid: Segovia, Avila, Toledo, and Aranjuez. All of those places are truly spectacular in their own right, so they’ll be featured in an upcoming blogpost!

My Top Ten Favorite Places in Madrid:

  1. The Royal Palace (Palacio Real de Madrid)

What huge city in Europe doesn’t have it’s own Royal Palace? You can find one right here in Madrid, located just north of the main city center. This palace rivals Buckingham in many ways, but also has it’s own charm. We went on a weekday in the middle of the afternoon (it was so hot there was barely a line) and basically breezed right through to the entrance. The palace is enormous and only has a few rooms open to the public. It’s considered the official residence of the Royal Family of Spain, but it’s only used for state ceremonies (and for when Obama comes in to town for breakfast like he did 2 weeks ago.) You can only take photos outside and in the main staircase entryway so feel free to snap away until you get into the official rooms of the palace. What I loved so much about this palace in particular were all of the incredible frescos on the ceilings. While it’s so wonderful to look around each room, don’t forget to take a moment to look up as many ceilings were painted by true masters. The self guided tour takes about an hour or so and there are discounts for students (or those under 25) and seniors. My grandma and I fit into both of those age categories so we have been getting some amazing discounts at museums here in Madrid! Don’t forget your I.D. and student card! Some highlights of the palace for me included the abdication letter from the previous king, the royal dining room (50 chairs at one huge table- holy moly), and all of the official portraits of previous Kings and Queens.

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Outside the Royal Palace
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Crest of the Monarchy
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Ceiling Fresco in the Royal Palace
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Grand Staircase in the Royal Palace

2. Cerralbo Museo

If you’re nearby the Royal Palace in Plaza de Oriente don’t miss this small gem of a museum tucked away in a gorgeous building not far from the palace. Before we came to Madrid we put this museum on our list of “must see” places and I’m SO glad we did! A visit to the museum is only 3 Euros, and free if you’re a senior or a student. The museum is located in the house of the collector, the Marquis of Cerralbo, and boasts his tremendous collection of art, furniture, books, and historical objects. The Marquis owned the house and stated in his will that upon his death the house be used as a museum, and everything left exactly where he desired. This is not your ordinary museum. Every room, wall, ceiling, and floor features a work of art or something on display. The architecture is simply stunning and you can’t help pretending like you’re in Downton Abbey while walking up the grand main staircase (I was pretending to be Lady Mary.)  There was hardly anyone there and photos were allowed (this I’ve found to be very rare at museums here in Madrid.) So for this one, I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

 

 

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The Ballroom of the Cerralbo Museum

3. Prado Museo 

Since the moment we arrived in Spain my grandma insisted that we make the Prado museum one of our top visiting priorities. And now I can see why: it’s magnificent. The building was opened in 1819 to the public as an institution for the finest art in Spain, and ultimately the world. It boasts several collections spanning every art movement and time era. Some of my favorite pieces were by masters such as: Velazquez, Rafael, Goya, and El Greco. The museum has more than one floor and every room features a different style. In particular I was completely captivated by: Velazquezs’ “Las Meninas” (if only that girl in the painting knew 500 years later her face would be on every souvenir), Goyas’ “La Maja Desnuda” (can you say scandalous??), Federico de Madrazo y Kuntz’s  “Doña Amalia de Llano y Dotres, Countess of Vilches.” I mean, EVERY painting is truly stunning in this museum. The line in the morning is extremely long, but we went back later in the day and had no problem getting tickets. Give yourself at least 3 hours to explore.

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Outside of The Prado Museum

 

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“Las Meninas” by Diego Velazquez- 1734

 

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“La Maja Desnuda”by Goya- 1800

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Federico de Madrazo y Kuntz’s “Doña Amalia de Llano y Dotres, Countess of Vilches”

4. Mercado de San Miguel 

Okay, enough about the museums, now let’s talk about what makes Madrid really an amazing city: the food. You can walk down ANY street and find countless outdoor cafes, churro stores, and tapas places, but hidden across a corner from Plaza Mayor is the ultimate food heaven: Mercado de San Miguel. The building itself is beautiful and dates from the early 1900’s. Inside you’ll find small stands with literally everything you can imagine. Tapas? Check. Every kind of stuffed olive? Check. Desserts? Check. Cheap Sangria? Check. Delicious Spanish ham? Check. Little baby eels on pieces of Toast?….um……check. I can tell you I ate everything I just listed, except the baby eels. I couldn’t quite get myself to try that one. But in all seriousness this place is amazing and not to be missed on your trip to Madrid. If you’re looking for table service, tables in general, or peace and quiet, this market is not the place for you. But if you want a taste of real Spanish food in a boisterous and exciting setting, definitely plan to have lunch or a late dinner at the Mercado San Miguel.

 

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A Macaroon the Size of my Hand (aka HEAVEN)
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HUGE pans of Paella!!!

5. Parque Del Retiro 

After you are exhausted from visiting beautiful museums, eating your body weight in tapas, and people watching in the many plazas, I highly suggest making your way over to the beautiful Retiro park. The park is located next to the Prado Museum and spans over several acres. You can easily find a quiet spot all to yourself or you can take a lovely boat ride in the central lake. It’s a great place to take a stroll or to grab an ice cream and enjoy some nature in the middle of a crazy city. We were able to meet up with some friends of my grandma and had a great time walking around with their sweet 2 year old daughter, Emma.

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Emma and I with our hats!
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My COOL Grandma and I!

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In a day or so we will leave Madrid for Ribera Del Duero, Burgos, Bilbao, and Pamplona. Our tour travels all over Spain for 2 weeks and I’ll post the highlights when I can!

It’s crazy to think in a couple weeks I’ll be actually living in Wroclaw, Poland. But for now I’m enjoying the warm weather, liters of Sangria, and the company of my amazing Grandma.

All My Love,

Katrina

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Pictured here: One glass out of many glasses of sangria

This American Girl Has Found Her Heart and Soul on the Other Side of the World: A Final Goodbye to Romania

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I’m not sure how this is even real right now, but my last day in Brasov is actually here.

At this moment I’m sitting in a cafe (avoiding this final Romanian blogpost) having a hard time putting in to words how I’m feeling at this moment. Loved. Sad. Nostalgic. Overwhelmed. In denial. Happy. 

I read this great travel quote that said: “Traveling is like flirting with life. It’s like saying ‘I would stay and love you, but I have to go.'” 

I don’t think a quote ever resonated with me more than that quote does right now.

I’ve spent the last month exploring, learning, experiencing, loving, caring, helping, adventuring, and I have actually fallen in love with this country. I’ve had experiences here that I can’t even completely put in to words. Moments that can only be captured and felt by the heart. I have fallen head over heels for the colorful buildings, the cobblestone streets, the endless amounts of cabbage, the cheap pretzel stands, the cafes lining the main street, the gorgeous square at sunset, the night life on a Saturday, the old doors, the beautiful language, the kind people, the children here…

I’ve traveled thousands of miles away from home and have found myself on the other side of the world. I think I can finally say I’ve found the best version of myself. The happiest version and the most honest version. I am a wanderlust. I have a passion for exploring new places and immediately feel a rush when I’ve been placed somewhere unfamiliar. There’s an excitement in discovering unknown streets, different languages, and new people. This journey has definitely had it’s difficult moments, but I have somehow found a way to navigate them and I like to think I’ve become a stronger and wiser person through it all.

My volunteering experience was more incredible than I could’ve ever imagined. I felt like I was so involved and connected to my project and the kids I was working with. I will truly miss seeing their sweet faces every day. I know I’ve said this a million times by now on every social media outlet I have, but they are truly SO special. They are the future and they deserve all of the love and guidance in the universe. I was only a part of a small portion of their lives, but I know I will never forget them. I’ll never forget that moment when I saw the power of music change a whole morning for my group of special needs children. I’ll never forget holding a little boys hand in the orphanage and singing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” as he looked up at me with a huge smile. I’ll never forget the day when my kids from the center worked all morning on a picture frame with pressed flowers (I was helping them without realizing the gift was actually for me) and then presented it to me with a huge group hug. These moments for me are like permanent snapshots in my heart. I’ll carry them with me where ever I go .

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The wildflower picture frame from my kids at Lunca
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Final goodbye to my kids from Lunca

I’m not one for goodbyes and this week I’ve had to say goodbye to some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. Several volunteers left earlier this week to head home (California, France, Switzerland) and I couldn’t believe that our time together was over. For the last several weeks we have all been here on the same mission: to change lives and  to give love. We all came from such different places and backgrounds, but we all had the same goal in sight while being here. My fellow volunteers and I have been a team. They’re the people I’ve lived with, talked with, danced with, cried with, laughed with… We have made our own little family and this week I had to say goodbye to members of that family. I feel lucky to have known every single one of them. They literally have changed lives here and I can’t think of anything more amazing or selfless than that.

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Saying goodbye to my French partner in crime, Morgane

I also had to say goodbye to someone who has made my time here very unique and wonderful. I was already having such an incredible time here in Romania, but Sorin went out of his way to make me feel like I can really consider Brasov a second home. I’m so glad we found a way in to each others lives here because it was truly lovely having a Romanian show me the real Romania. Our day trip to Sighisoara was breathtaking and I don’t think I will ever go somewhere so magical. I think together we climbed every tower in Brasov and eventually it became a joke that we were always climbing something. He showed me some gorgeous views of his city and always allowed me the chance to really experience places here for the first time, even if he’s been to every view and place a thousand times. I was always allowed my own moment of wonder and joy. I am forever grateful for all of the memories here that he made possible for me. I can’t think back on my time in Brasov and imagine him not being a part of it.

Yesterday two of my roommates and I took the cable car up to the top of the Brasov sign. This was the third time I had been to the top of Mt. Tampa, but the view seriously never gets old or less stunning. We each bought a little basket of fresh berries and made our way over to a ledge on the side of the mountain. I could’ve sat there all day. As I was dangling my legs over the side I was thinking of how I know I will be back here one day. There’s still so much left to explore and there can always be more love to give. I know my work here is far from over.

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Sitting on the edge of the world

I don’t think I can leave Romania without having one last meal of stuffed cabbage and polenta, so before I start crying again I’m going to end this blogpost and find some lunch. I have managed to pack my bags (they are absolutely overweight, again) and feel like I have everything together to leave at 3am tonight.

Today I’m ending a chapter, and tomorrow I’m starting a new one. I still have 2 bags to my name, no real place to call home, and limited access to resources. But in this weird, limbo like place, I have found the real Katrina. It’s so wonderful to finally know that my huge risk of moving to Europe is feeling like it was the right choice. I have always tried to trust my intuition when it comes to big life choices. I’m proud of myself for taking a deep breath and trusting my heart on this one. This American girl has found her heart and soul on the other side of the world.

La Revedere, Romania. Toata dragostea mea.

All My Love,

Katrina

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How I feel about Romania:

Sighisoara: Walking Through A Fairytale

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Hi Friends, Family, Bloggers, and Fellow Wanderlusts!

This third week of volunteering has flown by!! I can’t believe I now have to countdown the days until I leave this beautiful place. I’m coping with any sadness by telling myself that I WILL return to Romania. This country has captured my heart, soul, and spirit. I feel like it’s now another home to add to the list of Chicago and Davie, Florida.

Yesterday, I was able to visit another magnificent city in the Transylvanian region: Sighisoara. I heard of Sighisoara from friends who had visited and countless travel books: it was always mentioned as a “must-see.” And now I understand why. It’s MAGICAL. It’s the type of city where you feel like you’ve been transported back in time. You can imagine the wagons on the cobblestone streets, the different merchants trying to sell goods, and ladies in dresses gossiping on every street corner. It’s no wonder it’s considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

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Center of Sighisoara
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Colorful Street in Sighisoara

I was so fortunate to have made a wonderful friend, Sorin, the other weekend who was willing to spend his day off from work driving us to Sighisoara and back. We originally had plans to go to the Black Sea, but this ended up being the perfect second choice. I’ve truly enjoyed his company and it’s evident that he loves his beautiful country.

The drive from Brasov to Sighisoara was only about 2 hours or so. I imagine if you take the train you could easily tack on another 2 hours, so thank goodness Sorin had a car. You can get to Sighisoara on a 2 lane “highway” (I was told this road is a major connecting highway in Romania) and the drive itself is a beautiful part of the trip. When leaving the Brasov area the road takes you through turn after turn leaving the surrounding mountain range. Eventually this road passes through small villages (I loved the colors of the buildings and seeing locals with horses and wagons) and land that seems to go on for miles. We drove by an extremely old citadel at the top of the mountain and from afar it looks like something straight out of Game Of Thrones. We actually made a stop there on our way back.

When we arrived in Sighisoara the weather was upwards of almost 90 degrees and we both were pretty hot. But I ended up forgetting about the sweltering sun once we started walking up a long flight of stairs to the main historical area. The center was bustling with tourists, school groups, and backpackers. Like Brasov, Sighisoara was founded by Saxons in the 12th century and the architecture reflects their unique style. But there was something about Sighisoara that seemed even more “old world” than I could’ve imagined. When you take a look around and erase the tourists, people in Medieval costumes pretending to joust, and stands of Dracula souvenirs, it could’ve easily been a city “frozen in time.” I absolutely LOVED all of the vibrant colored buildings and had to have my picture taken in front of my favorites. We spent an hour or so just wandering around and finding streets to different towers and churches. A little bit up from the center there is an entrance for a wooden covered staircase called, “The Scholars Stairs.” It has 175 steps and was built in 1642 for the purpose of protecting students and churchgoers on their walk up to the church and school at the top of the staircase. We walked up and arrived at the old church, school, and one of the most beautiful graveyards I’ve ever seen. The cemetery is located in the back of the “Church on the Hill” and features rows and rows of Saxon graves. Clearly the cemetery is also still in use because as we walked I noticed a more recent headstone. In a way it felt more like an overgrown garden and less like a creepy old cemetery. Make sure to wander through it for a bit if you ever end up in that area. It also makes for a photographers dream.

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The cemetery behind the “Church the Hill”
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The “Church the Hill”
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Medieval towers in Sighisoara

We continued our wandering through more cobblestone streets and old houses. I was so mesmerized by all of the beautiful flowers planted along the walk ways and in private gardens. I stopped to take photos of some of my favorites and Sorin was kind enough to capture how giddy I was as I came across them.

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LOVING the beautiful flowers!!

Eventually we had made it back to the center of town and took a walk up to the top of the “Clock Tower.” The views were beautiful and you could see the “Church on the Hill” area to the left and on the right another church that lies next to the Tower. We were able to snap a couple photos from this spot and take in Sighisoara from a 360 degree view.

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The “Clock Tower” in Sighisoara
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Sorin and I at the top of the “Clock Tower” in Sighisoara

If you find yourself in the Transylvania area, make sure to add a short visit to Sighisoara. I joked a couple times while I was there that I would truly love a little colored cottage somewhere near the city center.

On our drive home we decided that we would stop to check out that Citadel we saw on our way to Sighisoara. It’s about halfway between Brasov and Sighisoara and you can’t miss it because it looks like it’s been carved into the peak of a mountain. After some research and visiting I found out it’s real name is “Cetacea Rupea” and it’s one of the oldest archeological sites in Romania. Within the fortress are several towers, a chapel, and some very small buildings which used to be houses. We enjoyed walking up the spiral walkway to the top house on the peak and snapping a couple photos of the view. This part of Transylvania is mainly farmland and small mountain ranges, and it’s incredibly beautiful. It was definitely worth a short visit and I highly recommend it!

The weekend is now coming to an end (sigh) but I managed to get in a short 2 hour hike up and down Mount Tampa this afternoon. I had been last week to the Brasov sign via cablecar, but decided I would get a little exercise and fresh air. Again, the views were stunning. This place will never get old.

Dinner will be soon. I will sure miss these delicious home cooked meals.

All My Love,

Katrina

P.S. Sighisoara is famously known as the “birth place” of Dracula, or Vlad Tepes. But through the grapevine I’ve been told the historical facts don’t line up. Regardless, it makes for a good story.

Photo Credit: Katrina Kiss and Sorin Bostan

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Music and the Children Who Have Changed Me

If you are sick of all of the hate and insanity happening in the world lately, I’d love to share with you my beautiful morning today in Romania.

Three days a week I volunteer at an incredible center called “Rafael Foundation.” It’s a place for children and adults with severe mental and physical disabilities to come together for therapy, play, and fun. On those 3 days I work with a group of about seven kids, ages four to ten. These kids are different from some of the other kids that visit there because they are full time residents of a special needs orphanage, only ten minutes down the road. It’s taken the foundation so long to get approval for them to come on these days for some extra help in a safe environment. When these kids are not at the center, they are bedridden, changed twice a day, and bathed twice a week. They hardly have any adult interaction as there are so many of them and not enough help. So when they come to the center, it’s their time to recieve all of the love possible.

Normally we have circle time, free play, snack, and some outside time. But this morning was a bit different as one of the teachers at the center started off with all of us participating in a music therapy lesson. She set up a boom box, a small essential oils diffuser, and passed out several bags that when waved or touched made a crinkling sound. Usually these kids are non responsive or they rarely show emotion. But the minute we all started working one on one with them coordinating touch and sound, something beautiful happened: they all lit up. Their eyes, their faces, their smiles. Just the simple idea of allowing them to feel something tactile while listening to sounds changed the entire environment in the room. I was working with a girl who doesn’t speak, hardly smiles, and is often looking out into no where. But once I took a bag and started draping it over her shoulders and making it “crinkle” she looked me in the eyes and smiled. My world stopped in that second. Another boy is partially blind and keeps his eyes closed most of the time, and I let him hold one end of the bag as I shook it. His eyes widened like I’ve never seen before and he started laughing. At one point I led him to the boom box and he put his head on the table so he could feel the vibrations from the bass line.

I’ve been working with these kids for 3 weeks now and had never seen them respond like this before. I cried. Everything I have always believed about the power of music was true this morning. Music is everything. It’s life. It’s us. It’s in you, me, and these kids. This morning, just music on a boom box and a couple of plastic bags made seven children who have nothing so incredibly happy. I will never forget their faces once they heard songs playing and had the chance to be touched, held, rocked, and tickled by people who love them. This entire journey has been so worth it for this moment in time. The teachers at this center work every day to make these moments possible and for that they will always be in my heart. I feel so blessed to be a very, very small part of their lives.

Noapte Buna.

All My Love,

Katrina

Castles, Mountains, Children, and MANY Salami Sandwiches: My Adventures in Brasov

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From the top of Tampa Mountain

Hello from Beautiful Brasov!!

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend! I saw videos of Chicago being pummeled by a terrible thunderstorm. Hoping all is well over there! I’m happy to report that we’ve had great weather here in Brasov, but it’s been VERY hot. I will never take the air conditioning on the CTA for granted.

This past weekend was a whirlwind and went by way too quickly! On Saturday some friends and I decided to wake up early and take the train to a city called Sinaia! All of us really wanted to see Peles Castle and it did not disappoint!! Compared to Bran Castle (where we went the weekend before) Peles is a “newer” castle and doesn’t quite have the complicated history of Bran. But while Bran was essentially a medieval fortress, Peles Castle was absolutely stunning because it looked like a something straight out of a Grimm Fairytale. The architecture is Neo-Renaissance and it’s situated at the top of a mountain overlooking Sinaia below. It was constructed by King Carol I and was used as a summer residence for many years. When we got to Sinaia and pulled up at the train station (I forgot how much I love riding the train) we followed signs marked, “Castelul Peles.” Funny enough once we got to the main road it was blocked off for an amateur car race up the mountain. There were tons of locals checking it out and you could hear the cars revving up from any point on our walk. We finally found the cobblestone pathway to Peles and passed by vendors selling Romanian crafts, fresh picked berries, boomerangs (quite impressive ones), and your typical souvenirs. At some point we passed over a small waterwall, walked around a corner, and out of no where (almost like in a Disney movie, specifically the opening sequence of ‘Beauty and the Beast’) a huge and magnificent castle appeared.

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Sinaia Train Station
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Sinaia
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Sinaia Monastery
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Vendors on the walk to Peles Castle
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Waterfall in Sinaia
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The view you see when you’re walking down the street and you turn the corner…

It was totally one of those moments where my jaw dropped and I was in complete awe. It was a postcard photo; it couldn’t have been more perfect. The girls had to take about 20 pictures before we made it to the entrance. We were a little confused at the ticket window because there were two different prices and options for entrance. For 20 lei you can view only the ground floor of the castle (weapons room, grand hall, smaller rooms) but for 50 lei you could also view the first floor with the concert hall, royal bedrooms, and the offices of Queen Elizabeth and King Carol. We opted for the 50 lei tour because at the time we decided, “when in Romania!” Weirdly enough though there was an extra price for taking photos inside the castle. There was no way I was going to deny anyone reading my blog a glimpse inside so I snapped a couple photos and tried to remain as sneaky as possible. Hopefully I don’t get caught by the Romanian government for this blogpost…If you don’t hear from me, blame the following photos.

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Exterior of Peles Castle
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Exterior of Peles Castle
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Interior Courtyard of Peles Castle
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Terrace at Peles Castle
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Terrace at Peles Castle

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They make you wear little booties on your shoes!!

The interior of the castle was probably the most detialed and ornate place I’ve ever seen besides Versailles in France. Every, EVERY inch of every corner, wall,  and ceiling was decorated with something. It took them from 1873 to 1914 to completely finish the castle, and you can understand why when you’re admiring how everything is so intricately designed. We also agreed that the castle was somewhat spooky and would NOT be somewhere we would want to be once the sun went down.

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The spiral staircase in this Hall was one of my favorite parts
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Grand Hall inside Peles Castle
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Weapons Room
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Full Armor in the Weapons Room
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A beautiful portrait of Queen Elizabeth and Princess Marie in the study
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One of my favorite rooms: the Music Room.

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The Dining Room
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Upper View of the Great Hall and the ornate staircase

Overall, I would say if you’re in Brasov or traveling through Sinaia, a visit to the castle is a perfect day trip. We probably waited in line for about 45 min (MAKE SURE TO GET THERE EARLY!!) and then the actual tour was around an hour and 15 min. They take you in a group of about 30 people and you go with a guide who is definitely doing this as his summer job. He was not too amused with our questions. Even if we tried to compare the castle to Harry Potter.

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I was BEYOND happy
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Jon, Nicole, Morgane, Myself, and Jan outside Peles Castle

After our tour ended we were all starving and opted to find lunch a little ways down by the train station. I had pizza (I swear I’ve eaten more pizza here than any other time in my life) and a cheap cold drink. Speaking of cheap…I have truly managed to stretch my dollar here. The conversion between US Dollars and Romanian Lei really works in our favor. One Lei is equal to 25 cents. So without getting too nerdy and mathematical: wine is cheaper than water, and beer is cheaper than wine. You can have a really nice glass of wine here for only $3. I think in the last 2 weeks or so I’ve only spent around $200. It’s completely financially possible to live here if you’re using US currency.

On Saturday night after a long day of sightseeing, we managed to get ourselves together to go out. After some drinks at a local beer house we all ventured over to a nightclub in the city center called “Times.” Long story short we danced the night away and had a great time. Confession: I’m starting to really like Euro Electronic pop. It’s so catchy. Also some of the songs here are just ridiculous.

The next morning was a day off for everyone and my first lazy morning in a long time. Later in the afternoon I met up with a friend that I had met the night before and he was kind enough to take me to the top of the Brasov sign. It’s something I’ve been trying to do in the last week, so I was pretty excited to have the chance to finally go. There’s a cable car you can take to the top or you can opt for the hour walk. The view was GORGEOUS. Seriously it was another one of those moments where I asked myself, “Can this city get any more beautiful?!” The answer is: Yes. Every day I find myself more in awe and captivated by this incredible city. I feel so lucky to be here.

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View from Tampa Mountain with Brasov below
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Another STUNNING view!

Yesterday I spent the whole day at Prejmer day center. The kids there are so sweet and they were very excited when I brought up the idea of us all working together to make dragon puppets. Their “theme” for summer is “medieval times” so we’ve been talking about dragons a lot. There are times when we don’t understand each other at all, but with my VERY basic Romanian, we make it work. I really enjoy spending time with them. And of course, they are still loving “Zip, Zap, Zop.”

Today I spent the morning at the Rafael Foundation. I assisted an occupational therapist with 2 boys with Autism. We sang a ton of songs (all in Romanian) and did some exercises together. A little later I was able to play with some of the younger kids. A VERY cute and sweet girl with Down Syndrome truly touched my heart when I said “hello” to her in Romanian and she kissed me on both cheeks. Another one of those moments on this journey that I will always remember. We then chased each other around in the driveway for an hour while she laughed the whole time. I really love being at the Rafael Foundation and I admire all of the staff that work tirelessly there. They are so committed to allowing those with disabilities to succeed and their passion is incredible.

It’s lunchtime here now and I’m happy to say that for the first time in 12 days I am NOT EATING A SALAMI SANDWICH.

This is a huge deal.

For lunch every day I’ve eaten a salami and cheese sandwich. Our house mother is so sweet to provide us with ingredients to make sandwiches…but there’s only so much salami a girl can handle! If I ever write a memoir about this trip it’ll be entitled “Mountains, children, and many salami sandwiches: my adventures in Brasov.”

Truly, I am in love with this place. The people, food, architecture, sights, energy..I could go on and on and on…If you’re reading this now thinking “I’ll never go to Romania.” I highly suggest you change your mind. I’m already trying to think of times when I can come back, maybe even when there’s snow and I can try skiing or snowboarding for the first time.

That’s all for today! Thanks for following me on this crazy journey. I feel more at home here every day and this goodbye will be so hard..I’m avoiding it at all costs. But for now: more dancing, adventuring, teaching, learning, and eating. 

All my love,

Katrina

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