Every year we splurge on pointless, planet-trashing products, most of which are not wanted. Why not just bake them a cake?
(…) They seem amusing on the first day of Christmas, daft on the second, embarrassing on the third. By the twelfth they’re in landfill. For 30 seconds of dubious entertainment, or a hedonic stimulus that lasts no longer than a nicotine hit, we commission the use of materials whose impacts will ramify for generations. (…)
In September I had my second AHHAAAAAAA moment. The first one happened in early July, when I flew to Tartu to give a hand in the arrangements for the youth exchange.
Knowing that a challenging and restless week was ahead of me, I decided to take a couple of days before the project to unwind and explore Tartu. I turned to the good-ol’ Couchsurfing for my lodging and was lucky to have two different beds for the two nights in the city renowned for its university and student life. I delved into the life of a Laura, an Estonian/German girl who impressed me with her sensible maturity and views of the world. We got to hangout with her fellow classmates on a fun board games night. In the blink of an eye Annika, a doctorate at the university, welcomed me into her house and with her came an amusingly chaotic family. In a very short time Couchsurfing gave me an insight to the lives of Estonians at opposite ends of the life spectrum. And how much I cherish having these opportunities!
At last, don’t limit yourself to the historical centre. The Estonian National Museum, albeit a bit far away, is definitely a must-do!
Young Researchers for Science
Coming to Tartu as the team-leader of the Portuguese entourage, I was excited to finally meet my compatriots, with whom I only had the chance of contacting via Skype and email. At last, I could match the voices and writings with the faces of Afonso, Carolina, Isabel, Magda and Verónica.
But it didn’t end there. Along with some well-known faces met in July, I got to become familiar with 30 more, from the lands of Estonia, Hungary, Czech Republic and Italy.
Experimenting with WETLANDS
The gorgeously eco-friendly flower pots!
The Youth Exchange was meant to be at the intersection of environmental education and science. So for a whole week we got to be environmental scientists!
One of the very first things that struck me as incredibly positive was that most of the activities and workshops were in our hands (read: the participants). Of course there was a team of awesome people – Marco, Sarah and Trifon (and Ellen!) – who were there to support us through it all. But again, the concept that we were held responsible for the success of the project a big highlight that set “Young Researchers for Science” apart.
The schedule was divided into two segments:
The first was meant exclusively for the participants, as we got to develop activities prepared prior to our arrival in Estonia. The Portuguese group shed some light on the topic of coffee and its economical, social and environmental impact. We developed a hands-on-let’s-get-yourself-dirty workshop to create biodegradable flower pots from coffee grounds. Dirty hands aside, the pots came to be sucessfully materialised and proved that pretty much anything can be (re)used.
The second part consisted in creating activities meant to be performed with the AHHAA visitors (the target audience being mostly children and youngsters). The group in which I was involved came up with an idea to work on: wetlands!
An ecosystem incredibly rich in biodiversity that provides a number of important services, such as: high concentration power of carbon (around 20 to 30% of the world’s total); support the cultivation of rice (a staple in the diet of half the world’s population); allow for water filtration, storm protection and flood control. It is also a significant cluster of mammals, birds, fish, invertebrates, microorganisms and plants (ex.: moss) and covers 25% of Estonia (4 to 6% of the world’s surface)!
Since Estonia has such an intimate bond with wetlands, we decided to raise awareness on the importance of preserving them and explain how they work in the real world through some simple experiments.
During the workshop conception we got to an overflow of shared knowledge. We built and rebuilt our experiments until we came up with something suitable to present. The attendance was quite good and we ended up repeating the show once again, at the Researcher’s Night Festival.
The days were also sprinkled with energisers, team-building activities, intercultural evenings, one memorable night out and other tasks that involved exploring the AHHAA Science Centre.
The whole gang!
The Portuguese gang!
Things eventually came to an end… But the friendships, the conversations and the amazing moments shared together will forever stay with every single one of us.
At last but not least, don’t forget to create a calendar appointment: on the 2nd of February we will celebrate the World Wetlands Day… Stay tuned!
Sometimes you need a good excuse to be a tourist in your own country. Magdalena‘s visit provided the perfect pretext to spend a week enjoying some of the most beautiful spots in and out of Lisbon. Finally came the moment to visit Palácio da Pena, the colourful-straight-out-of-Willy-Wonka royal house sitting on top of a lusciously green hill.
Note to self: next time stick to the palace’s exterior and choose only to visit its gardens, as the crowds are more sparse and you don’t need to queue all day to visit its not so remarkable interior.
Praia da Ursa, a stone’s throw from the westernmost point of continental Europe left me in utter awe. Its uneasy access and lack of infrastructures make it the perfect spot away from the hordes. It takes roughly 20 minutes to walk down and along the way
There was also time for some south-of-Lisbon adventure: Praia do Pinheirinho and Cais Palafítico da Carrasqueira. For the latter, make sure to get there before the sunset, you’ll definitely thank me later.
The city which is not actually a city. With roughly 1600 inhabitants and one single road (barely enough attributes for it to be considered anything other than a small-ish village in many other nations), I wonder why Romania has such a special affection for Băile Tușnad, as to consider it the smallest city in the whole country! Despite its size, Băile comes with a few surprises:
The town is almost engulfed by nature! Located in a valley, everywhere you look there are endless hills covered in thick forest, giving you the purest and freshest air you can breathe;
Its mineral waters are also proven to have healing properties, especially for those with heart diseases… Whether you seek treatment or not, make sure to spend at least an afternoon in the thermal spa!
Bears! Yes, you read it right – BEARS! Being a natural sanctuary, don’t be surprised if you come across bears roaming around the town, particularly late in the evening, fetching for food in the trash cans… Estimates say that there are over 6000 bears wandering in Romanian forests. If you are really eager to go on a late evening hiking, don’t. Better safe than sorry.
Every street sign is written in both Romanian and Hungarian… Reasons: only in 1947 this area became, once and for all, part of Romania. Before it was most of the time in the hands of (you guessed it!) Hungary! Nowadays around 90% of Tușnad’s population is still Hungarian.
Back to the top. Took me two flights to get to Bucharest. After an horrific train ride from Bucharest, without an assigned seat, hence having me travelling for over 4 hours standing up with other fellow passengers, I arrived pretty strained to the town that would have me for the upcoming week.
Things did get better though.
I got to spend 10 days exploring my body (no hidden meaning here!) and senses through various activities, both indoor and outdoor, and other holistic methodologies, facilitated by experienced trainers. Every morning began with something called the harvesting circle – a safe space for people to share their heart’s out and also reflect upon their learning. It set the mood and atmosphere for the days to unravel in a peaceful manner. My personal highlight of this experience was having the chance to co-facilitate a training session along with some of my fellow colleagues. We came up with a workshop that required the involvement of the 5 senses and guided the participants on a sensory journey through Băile Tușnad.
The cute and charming historical centre is enough to leave you hooked! Look for its heart, Piaţa Sfatului, bustling with locals and tourists alike. Unlike Băile Tușnad, this is an actual city in all its essence, where you can find beautiful medieval buildings alongside an Hollywoodesque sign atop the hill, to remind you that you are indeed in Brașov.
Besides wandering around the city, I also took an afternoon to go to Bran, a small town not far away, which is well-known for one single monument: Dracula’s Castle. Full disclosure: huge disappointment. Too many visitors for such tight quarters, as we basically queuing all the way through various rooms, corridors, stairs and balconies, hoping to feel the presence of Dracula along the way.
Dracula’s father, the Irish writer Bram Stoker (who never actually visited Romania), depicted the character’s castle as “… on the very edge of a terrific precipice… with occasionally a deep rift where there is a chasm [with] silver threads where the rivers wind in deep gorges through the forests.”. In all of Transylvania it is surprisingly the only castle that actually fits his description. A dubious story that ultimately created a perfect tourist trap.
Money was tight and I still had a few more days of adventure, so I decided to resort to hitchhiking as my main way of transportation.
I had read that Romania was a hitchhiker’s paradise. Friendly and curious people willing to give rides without much thinking and not so many highways, so cars have to travel through the national roads, meaning less time thumbing up.
With all these things in mind, my hopes were high up there… But things usually never go as you want, right?
I placed myself on the main road heading out of the city, with plenty of space for cars to stop. A sign in one hand and my finger up in the other. Expected it to last a few minutes, half an hour in the worst-case scenario.
I ended up stranded for more than an hour, seemingly invisible to the drivers passing by.
Eventually it paid off. A middle aged university professor on its way home was kind enough to stop for me. We got along easily and conversation happened naturally: politics, economics, psychology… we had enough time to cover it all.
Once I nurtured myself with a bowl of soup at a roadside restaurant, I walked to the intersection with the road heading towards the mountains. Soon I was being driven up the mountains. The local couple who took me had previous experience in helping other hitchhikers. Despite having been there multiple times before, they told me that the experience was always magical. Eventually we made it to the top and we went our separate ways.
Journey distance: 134 km
One of the world’s most famous roads has one of the strangest spellings. Built upon a dream of an egomaniac man, Ceaușescu, construction only lasted fours years (1970-1974), which is quite impressive given the region’s orography.
What as meant to be a fast and reliable way for the military to cross the Carpathian Mountains during the Communist time, ended up becoming an exciting destination on its own. Petrolheads probably have heard about Transfăgărășan from Jeremy Clarkson himself (former host of the British TV series Top Gear), who proclaimed it “the best road in the world”.
I had planned on wild camping at the top of Transfăgărășan, by one of its lakes, but the weather was freezing cold. As I didn’t pack that many warm clothes I thought it would be wiser to go back down and find lodging somewhere. Decided to go to Sibiu. Wrote it on a piece of cardboard and put my thumb up.
Going uphill traffic was plentiful so people driving up faced me with a curious smirk… (there’s no other way for me to put it).
It didn’t take many more inquiring looks before a car stopped for me. Inside, a young couple with their baby. The car was packed to the fullest so I had to take all of my belongings with me in the front seat (which was actually on the left side). The father, who was making a living in the UK, had came back for summer holidays to be with his family and they were now returning home after a couple of days spent at the seaside town of Constanța. My plans to stop in Sibiu were soon scrapped as I made my way to Alba Iulia, their home.
Journey distance: 154 km
A dull and soulless star-shaped citadel… The silver living is that I got to relax for a couple of days, wandering around the perfectly manicured walled city. Oh, and I wild camped for one night too!
Effortless. I hopped in after making sure that I wouldn’t have to shell out money for it. Three people already in the car, in what it looked like an unofficial taxi ride. I got worried, as the image of my hitchhiking experience in Albania ran across my mind. I tried to steer myself away from such thoughts but soon a red flag emerged: one of the passengers handed some cash to the driver as his journey came to an end.
F*ck. Maybe he misunderstood me or is actually trying to extort me! I shouldn’t have accepted his riding offer!
Ended up having nothing to pay, as he told me that he had understood I was indeed hitchhiking.
Took me 5 minutes for a car to stop. Again, another car with random people inside. This time I had to have it crystal clear, and didn’t get in until I was sure that they complied with the hitchhiking norms… The driver was a bit reluctant and we ended up having an healthy argument on paid versus free rides. Ended up knowing that he was taking the other two passengers as BlaBlaCar rides.
Journey distance: 98 km
The unofficial capital of Transylvania is a vibrant city full of sights to be seen, parks to be explored, nightlife to be enjoyed…
At last, I made it to the Romanian capital after taking a short flight from Cluj, which saved me from taking an excruciating train journey.
I was feeling somewhat edgy and decided to document all the things I see with the HUJI camera app. In my humble opinion the photos below perfectly embed the city’s atmosphere. Crazy, hectic, grandiose and incredibly vibrant in its own way. It might take time to move past its austere communist aura, but once you do it, you’ll enjoy the city and its peculiarities.
Make sure to visit the lavish Palace of the Parliament. It’s amazing how one man’s insanity can rule an entire country. Yes, it is Ceaușescu again.
*no, it’s not a typo on how to spell my name.
In Romanian Viitor means: future, subsequent, time to come, etc. Source | bab.la
Once I saw online the beautiful half-moon shaped beach known as Voidokilia, I knew that nothing would stop me from getting there! Roughly 60 km away from Kalamata, I ended up hitchhiking all the way! I couldn’t believe myself once I got a glimpse at those pristine waters and golden sand. Pictures definitely don’t do it justice. Make sure to conquer the castle (take appropriate footwear) for the most amazing views!
I came to Kalamata to be an artist! Despite my lack of music, dance or circus skills, I still pushed on and submitted my application to take part in the youth project funded by the Erasmus+ programme. However, I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that I felt like a total outcast and end up wanting for it to finish long before its due date.
The sweating that I had to endure everyday. Wearing white clothes helped a bit, but doing any kind of outdoor physical activity provided to be unbearable. If it wasn’t for the baths in the Mediterranean (albeit not so refreshing) I don’t know how I would have coped with.