After spending 45 days in the US and Canada with friends and family, I headed over to Europe to visit my friend Constantin in Romania.  Since there were no direct flights to Romania from Colorado, I booked a flight to Stockholm, Sweden and decided to spend a couple days there first.

From Denver I flew to Oakland, to catch a Norweigian Air flight directly to Stockholm.  However, the flight from Oakland was delayed 9 hours, so unfortunately this gave me one less day in Stockholm. During the delayed flight, Norweigian gave me a $17 meal voucher.  I ended up filing a claim with airhelp.com which only took a couple minutes, and about a month later I was compensated 450EUR for the delayed flight (check them out if you ever have a delayed flight in or to Europe – it is the law that airlines compensate you for delayed flights).

Nonetheless, I arrived into Stockholm on August 13th around 10pm. On the express train from the airport to town, I met a fellow American guy named Blake, a 60-something year old black guy with dreds.  He owns several burger joints in Houston, Texas and was on the food channel, but he came to Europe to do some food-related events around Europe.  He told me he sells the best burgers in Houston, and he was well connected with some of the top restaurants in Stockholm.  Upon leaving the train station, I asked where he was staying.  He said he was just going to walk into the nearest hotel and find a place like he’d been doing all over Europe.  As we were leaving the station, a Swedish man and his girlfriend walked by and Blake asked them where to stay.

Central Stockholm

We ended up chatting with them for about 30 minutes about where to party, where to stay, and what to do.  Because I had to checkin before midnight, I headed off and had plans to meet Blake in an hour at a nearby bar.

Once at the hostel,  Generator Stockholm, I unpacked my stuff and met another American guy from San Francisco in the room, Dan.  He was a corperate banker, a bit younger than me, working for SalesForce in San Francisco.  We headed to the bar to grab a drink, and then we headed out to meet Blake.  The bar we were going to meet at didn’t exist where we thought, and Blake was no where to be found, so we went into the nearest bar.  The beer there was fantastic.  After a drink there, we bar hopped to a few other joints, then headed back to the hostel because Dan wanted to grab a new card, and then we had a drink at the hostel bar.  Afterward we headed out until about 3am, and then called it a night.

The following day I walked all over central Stockholm.  The architecture was excellent.  I’m always fascinated everytime I’m in Europe to see how different buildings are designed.  A lot of unique history makes everything look quite different from the average city architecture in the US or in Thailand, for example.  I spent most of the day walking, and probably covered 10+ miles.

Stockholm

In the late afternoon I had a kebab before heading back to the hostel.  The kebabs in Stockholm were fantastic.  They are considered the lower end food, but still cost around $12/dish.  Worth it nonetheless.

Once I got back to the hostel I was exhausted but was determined to stay awake to overcome the jetlag.  In the room a met another American guy who used to be a corperate exec who decided to quit and travel the world.  He was about to head out to some meetup, but we chatted for about an hour telling stories and talking about life philosophy.

After getting on my laptop for a bit, I headed back out to grab some dinner. While walking near the central train station, I ran into the couple that I had met the night before with Blake.  They said they just saw Blake at the Radisson hotel so I walked in there and saw Blake waiting to talk to the reception.  Apparently he had done a tour during the day but checked in his bags.  Because there were like 4 Radissons within 2 miles, he forgot which one he stayed at so was making calls and walking around.  Classic Blake.  After he asked there, we went to grab a drink at a nearby bar.

water fountain

He actually didn’t drink, but insisted he pay for a round, so I got some local beer.  While there chatting a women sits down near us and starts chatting.  While a bit crazy, she had some interesting stories to tell.  After about 3 beers there, the Swedish girl told us that she knew of a bar nearby with the cheapest drinks in town that was open late, so we headed there.  It was the busiest place in town, but a great atmosphere.  There we sat and chatted for probably another couple hours.  The woman perhaps drank too much, as she started crying, and I think she was a bit depressed.  We tried to get her a taxi, and not being able to we ended up walking back toward my hostel where there was a kebab shop.  Right before we arrived some police saw us and stopped us, and we told them that she needed a cab, so the police helped her out and Blake and I went to eat.  After eating and chatting for another hour, I headed back to the hostel and Blake went searching for his hotel.

My flight to Bucharest, Romania was the following afternoon.  I woke, chatted with Dan before he left, got online, and then had lunch at the hostel. Afterward I took a short nap in their relaxation room which had couches and cushions.  I woke about 4 hours before my flight, and looked at the itenary to find out that my flight was out of a different airport, Nykoping.  I asked the hostel reception how to get there and they told me to get a bus at the main station there, so I headed out.

At the main central station, I asked information and she said it takes 1.5 hours to get there, and the next one won’t leave for another hour. So all in a sudden I realize I may end up missing my flight.  Luckily, I end up arriving at the airport in time, and upon checkin I get nailed with a $60 baggage fee because my drone case is 1 inch over the limit (never fly Wizz Air).  I had booked everything through Kiwi.com, including baggage.  However, I didn’t book big enough baggage apparently.

One of the most amazing sunsets I've seen while boarding my flight out of Stockholm.

One of the most amazing sunsets I’ve seen while boarding my flight out of Stockholm.

Nonetheless, I got on the flight and arrived into Bucharest in the evening, where my good friend Constantin met me and picked me up.  We drove to the hostel I booked, X Hostel, where we stayed for the night.  After checking in, we headed out to Old Town for a kebab and a drink, which was fantastic.

The following day we did a walking tour of our own, exploring different parts of the city.  We also spent a fair time at a coffee shop catching up on life, work, and ideas.  In the evening we went back to old town for some dinner and drinks.  I had a liter of beer in a stein while sitting across from the most happening bar in old town.  People were taking bags of napkins and throwing them into the air – I guess it’s the new cool thing to do at a bar or club.

We woke the next day and got ready, and then drove to Brasov. On the way, we stopped Peles castle in Sinaia, the castle where the royals used to live, and I flew the drone around the area.  Upon arriving in Brasov we checked into our hotel and relaxed for a bit.  Luckily we had a car as the hotel was a bit out of the city center.  For dinner we went to the city center and had some excellent Romanian food next to the town square.

Drone shot of Pele? Castle in Sinaia, Romania

Drone shot of Peles Castle in Sinaia, Romania

The town square of Brasov is what I imagined eastern European architecture to be – rock-founded buildings, orange clay-shingled roofs, cobblestone roads, churches, etc.  It made for some great drone footage the following day.  Brasov itself has around 250,000 people, and since it’s spread out over a wide range the city doesn’t seem too crowded.  We spent the following day roaming the streets, hiking to the ancient fortress atop a hill by the city to get a nice view of the surrounding area.  Our walking tour covered the majority of central Brasov.  Luckily with a car we were able to see more of the surroundings when we left.

Overlooking Brasov, Romania atop the fortress

Overlooking Brasov, Romania atop the fortress

From Brasov we then drove to Greci, a small town in the country hills of eastern Romania where Constantin grew up – his hometown.  There I met his family, including his mother, father, and grandmother.  They welcomed me with joy, though the language barrier required Constantin to translate pretty much everything for me.  The layout of their house was great too – their house was actually like 4 houses which were all separate.  Constantin had his own little house with a living area, a couple bedrooms, bathroom, etc. His parents and grandparents lived in another, and another house was a big shop where his father sold tools and parts for mechanics and farmers nearby. They were also building a large addition to the shop to scale it up.  Behind the houses they had a massive garden and lots of trees with all the fruits and vegetables you could want – we sampled some of the delicious plums.  They also had countless chickens for eggs and meat, and seveal pigs.  The entire housing area seemed quite self-sustainable, and it was very comfortable while I was there.

Constantin's grandma preparing tomatos

Constantin’s grandma preparing tomatos

In the evening we drove a couple miles to a local restaurant to meetup with Constantin’s friend Valentin and his girlfriend, where we had a couple drinks.  It was interesting talking to Valetin.  He had been working at this restaurant for the past 5 years.  He said they were required to work 15+ hours a day, even though they weren’t paid any extra.  He decided to quit as he realized it was taking over his life.

He had just finished a 2 month unpaid internship, and then they let him go and didn’t hire him.  He was looking for new work. He told me “the world goes on without you, but you can’t go on without the world”, using it to describe his change in career and how him leaving the restaurant didn’t affect the restaurant at all, but it certainly changed his entire life. He had some interesting insights on life and work.

After some drinks, went back to Constantin’s house for a quick dinner.  The food was spectacular – it was “Sarmale”, a special Romanian dish, which was a wrapped leaf with mined pork dipped in sour cream.  After eating we headed to a couple bars around town, where everyone seemed to know everyone.

Flying drones at sunset

Flying drones at sunset

The next day Constantin showed me the drones he had been building, including a small racer and a beastly hectacopter. We also took his motorcycle for a test run, which I’d been wanting to see for awhile.  Around dusk we drove to the hills nearby and flew drones – I flew mine and tried to film his while they were up in the air.  I got some excellent shots before the mosquitoes took over and we had to leave. In the evening we went out again to a few bars, meeting several different friends while again.  I had a great conversation with one guy about Facebook and whether it’s good for the world or not.

We left Greci mid day the next day and headed to Vama Veche near the Romanian border with Bulgaria.  Vama Veche is a beach town along the Black Sea – it reminded me a bit of the crowded beaches of Pattaya or Hua Hinn in Thailand.  On the drive from Greci, we passed the largest wind farm I’d ever seen. When I got back home I looked into it:

The Dobrogea region, which consists of Constana and Tulcea counties, has the second-highest wind potential in Europe.
Source

There has been some serious investment into wind in Romania – there were literally wind turbines for as far as the eye could see for much of the entire 4+ hour drive.

The beach of Vama Veche - they even have solar panel chargers.

The beach of Vama Veche – they even have solar panel chargers.

The coastline in Vama Veche also was similar to the Thailand beaches – the beach itself was lined with umbrellas, and behind that were restaurants and shops, and behind them were hotels.  It was surprisingly much more expensive than the rest of Romania.  Romania overall was about the same price as Thailand, though Vama Veche was probably twice or three times the price – the cheapest hotel running around $30-$40 (which is very expensive in Romania considering the average wage is around $500/month).

When we arrived, we walked around, had a beer, and awaited to checkin.  The woman we reserved with didn’t get back to us so we shopped around for another place to stay without luck.  Before it got dark we were able to checkin at the original place we had planned after getting a call from another woman (long story).  After checking in we went outside to a deck area and ate the bread Constantin’s mom made and drank a bottle of wine that his dad had made – they made a fantastic combination.

Afterward we grabbed dinner, and then headed to the beach where one area seemed to have 90% of the people.  It was a big dance area, and the vibe was great.  One thing about Vama Veche that stuck out was how independent everyone was.  Some people were nude, others fully clothed, some dancing like crazy, others just chilling, some had familes, some were alone.  And it all blended together, and no one seemed to care or judge anyone else, it just worked, and it felt good being a part of such a liberated group of people just enjoying their lives.

We ended up chatting to a few people and before we knew it were we part of a group of like 8 teenagers dancing.  I had some great conversations with all of them – they all seemed quite educated and aware of the world – most spoke great English and had some great views on life.  When my beer was empty I went to get a new one, and decided to buy another 1.5L bottle for their group (which costs around $1 there).  When I came back and gave it to them, they all came up to me and thanked me for the next 10 minutes saying that I didn’t have to and that it was very generous of me.  In Romanian culture, from what I was told, you virtually never buy a drink for a random person or anyone other than yourself and friends.  It was fascinating to see how surprised they were by me simply buying 1 beer for them.

Aerial drone view of Vama Veche

Aerial drone view of Vama Veche

We called it a night in the early morning and got a drunken 8 hours of rest.  The next day we spent on the beach in the sun, swimming, walking, and exploring the area.  Much of the beach was nude, and you’d see families with children all just walking around naked.  No one cared like I imagine they would in most of the US (which is a shame really).  Swimming in the ocean was quite fun too, and the fact that there were countless topless women made it an extra memorable experience.

The evening was spent very much the same as the night before, dancing on the beach. Some people go to Vama Veche for a week and just dance and drink every night – it is a good getaway if that’s your plan.  We left Vama Veche the next day and drove back to Bucharest, where I would leave the following day.  Once in Bucharest I flew my drone around the main square and over old town taking some video and capturing some pictures.

Night aerial view of Bucharest

Night aerial view of Bucharest

The flew out of Bucharest around noon the following day, with a layover in Moscow.  Departing Bucharest had a bit of a hiccup, as they didn’t want me to fly with my drone and batteries.  It was the first issue I had come across with the drone while flying, but after a few phone calls they let me through security and I was able to board. As the plane was being taxied away to the runway, the ground workers were waving goodbye to the pilots.  It was the first time I had seen that, and complimented well with the friendly staff all over the airport.

Another great trip in the books. I’d certainly like to explore more of these in the near future, and Romania went beyond my expectations.  It just reassures me that we all have these preconceived notions about everything and everywhere, which is normal and necessary, but it’s important to know that they are more often than not wrong.  I knew Romania would be fun, especially since it was with a good friend, but the service, the work ethic, the quality of food and time spent preparing, and the people blew me away.  All of Romania that we drove through and visited was certainly developed – it seemed like a developed country with a developing wage.

Because of it’s history and Romanian being right in the middle of World World II, much of it has been rebuilt.  From talking to the people, they say “the Romanian government is absolute shit, as are the people, but Romania is great country”.  From an outsider perspective of just 2 weeks, I wasn’t able to see that, but I was impressed with how educated the people seemed to be, how developed most of the country was, and how far Romania has come since WWII.  It got me thinking a lot about wages and how wages are determined across the world.

One thing that stood out was the number of Audi’s and BMW’s driving around.  Literally 30% of all the cars I saw were one of such.  I asked Constantin how this could be on such a low average wage, and he said that people go into debt for many many years to buy a used one – it’s an attempt to show social status, like in most places.  It reminds me of in Thailand how people will pay $1,000 for a new iPhone even though the average monthly wage is $500.  People will literally spend a year of savings on a phone, and each year a new one comes out, they buy a new one.  It’s an odd part of human nature to display class, and it baffles me why people make such questionable buying decisions.

The other thing I noticed was that people in Romania hitchhike a lot.  Virtually everywhere we drove people would be waving on the side of the road attempting to hike a ride.  I thoroughly enjoy the idea, and it’s good to see it happening there.

If you ever want to explore eastern Europe, I’d highly recommend visiting Romania – it’s a wonderful place.