It's been a whirlwind few days. The weekend in Cluj was one of the weirdest and most wonderful experiences of my life. Weird, because a year ago I never would have imagined I'd be spending a weekend in Romania with a group of students from around the world. Wonderful, because the experience of doing something so out of the ordinary gave me a real sense of freedom and the joy of simply existing.
Rather than wax awkwardly philosophical on the benefits of travel, I'll give you some more concrete observations about Romania, since the average western reader likely won't know much about this country.
While it's not a rich country, Romania is actually known as a medium-high income country on a global scale, meaning that the quality of living isn't all that different from what we'd experience in the west. While shops and restaurants are generally cheaper, many of the same items and brand names are available. My western clothing doesn't look out of place and neither does my iPad. (Also, I must say, my host family's house in Suceava is way nicer than mine in either Canada or Scotland, so I by no means want to give the impression that all Romanians are poor, because the flat screen tv in my guest room definitely says otherwise...)
At the same time, it's still obvious the country isn't rich. The sidewalk is often cracked and the roads are potholed. Many of the buildings are covered in graffiti and need a new coats of paint. There's a fair bit of litter, and smoking is extremely common. Most of the nicer houses are surrounded by metal fences and electric gates.
On Saturday afternoon, we visited a church near our hostel and chatted with the caretaker for a minute. We asked him if he had ever been to Scotland, and he just sort of laughed and said it was far too much money. This really changed my perspective-- to have a middle aged man admit that he couldn't afford to pay for the flight which I thought was so cheap. To say that he didn't have enough money to stay in Scotland, when I managed to pay rent for a year in one of Scotland's most expensive towns. That an established adult had less disposable income than I do.
Because of the income difference, our weekend in Cluj felt like living like royalty. We could afford to eat out multiple times a day at the best restaurants in town while paying less than we would at a fish and chips place in the UK. We could buy earrings at the midsummer market or pretzels from the streetside stand, because even 10 Lei was still pocket change to us.
It was so amazingly freeing and fun... and yet, somewhat unsettling. I've never been so comparatively rich, and I'm not quite sure how to deal with the feeling.
And I said I wouldn't wax philosophical in this blog post. Whoops!