So I’ve been in Romania since mid April and I feel it’s confession time! I’ll start telling you what I’ve been up to so far this year. Heads up: this is going to be a highly personal post with fairly little hiking info – although I’ll pepper it with photos from my first hikes. I feel it’s important to take you with me on my sometimes difficult journey; I’m not just exploring Romania but also my self. I simply don’t want to leave you under the impression that everything is going swimmingly when it’s not. I’m building the life I want, but the process is far from smooth. I’m hoping that reading about my struggles will somehow resonate and support you on your own journey.
I quit my job
For one thing, I quit my job. A dream job, in many ways. I worked as an online marketing & communications manager for Atlas & Zanzibar, a wonderful travel bookshop in Ghent, Belgium. The moment I walked through that door three years ago or so I felt right at home. So I asked if I could work there, and so it happened. But lately, it started to become increasingly clear that it was time to move on to the next chapter. Romania kept tugging at my heart: every time I saw a picture of Romania, I could hear my heart shouting ‘Yes! Yes!’ And although I still love that bookshop and my colleagues to bits, I couldn’t hear a resounding ‘Yes!’ there.
So it was time to lift the anchor, and stop betting on two horses. I wanted to stay in this safe and cozy space, but every time I did something for work my body and mind protested. Sometimes people tell me I seem to know myself so well – but I think it’s more like my body knows me so well. And I am gradually learning to listen to my body, and learning to act on it. Often grudgingly and anxiously, but I know I can only move forward if I do things that make me come alive. And that nothing works unless I do. So I did the scary thing: I told my boss I was leaving, even though I didn’t have a very tidy plan for my next moves. But I felt I had to. To move away from what I know, and towards what I know I love: hiking in Romania, and sharing it with as many people as I can. As Simon Sinek puts it so well:
“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress.Simon Sinek
Working hard for something we love is called passion.”
Although I still did – and do – care about the travel bookshop, my heart was not there anymore. Not completely. It was here, in Romania. And even though I’m still figuring out the next steps, I feel more at peace now. I know I am where I’m meant to be. In my element. But getting here in the first place was quite the challenge – because I decided to do it by train.
A long train journey
On the 13th of April, I got on a train in Ghent and then boarded the Nightjet to Vienna in Brussels. Although I wasn’t feeling at all well and a long journey seemed daunting, I had set my mind on travelling to Romania by train again. I had placed my bet on the OBB Nightjet to Vienna, and then on the connecting Dacia train to Romania via Budapest. There was a 90 minute layover in Vienna so I felt I could risk it. But alas! The Nightjet built up a horrendous, four-hour delay due to a broken locomotive, and I ended up cancelling my no-longer-connecting train and booking a later one instead. Actually, I was relieved to have some hours in Vienna; the weather was beautiful and Vienna isn’t at all a bad place to kill some time.
So I lolled about in the Burggarten park, visited the adjacent Schmetterlinghaus, had a meal, conquered my throbbing headache and hopped on the afternoon train towards Budapest. Instead of 24 hours, the journey would now last a whopping 36 hours! But I always knew that could happen, so I wasn’t too upset. Only I made it last even longer because upon arrival in Suncuius, at 6:30 am, I couldn’t open the old-fashioned train doors and the train mercilessly continued with me on board… I managed to get off at the next stop though and my host Mircea very, very kindly picked me up there. The next chapter of my Romanian adventure had well and truly started.
I’ll write a guide to travelling to Romania by train later on – please bear with me. Meanwhile, you can find a guide to travelling by train within Romania here.
Gut feelings: something’s off
So, what happened next? Well, not much, to be frank. I spent twelve days in the little village of Suncuius in the Padurea Craiului region, but I didn’t feel great there, to put it mildly. Last year, I also started my Romanian adventures in Suncuius and it felt good, but this time round, circumstances didn’t exactly align. It was cold and rainy, I was dependent on fire and food from my hosts, and on top of that I still felt sick. Winter had been brutal: although I usually experience a bout of depression, this year I felt physically exhausted and mentally stressed all the time. Things got so bad that I could no longer believe this was just ‘mental’ – so I convinced my GP to take some blood tests and took them to an endocrynologist. To no avail – some hormones seemed off but nothing to worrry about, I was told. But I felt there was something very wrong with me, so I kept looking.
Thankfully, one of my neighbours pointed me to a more holistic GP practice, where I got a 60-minute intake and was then ordered to take more blood and saliva tests. Fast forward a few weeks: the results are in. During a 90-minute call (yes, there are doctors who take their time!), it became clear that my extreme fatigue is most probably caused by a number of food intolerances that have built up over the years – due to chronic stress, the theory goes. My hormones are also out of whack. It was a little hard to take in that I should, for a while, completely stop eating dairy, eggs, most grains and some fruits & nuts to give my apparently leaky gut time to recover, and both me and Wilbert (my pharmacologist husband) were a little sceptical at the start.
But some research seemed to confirm this as a valid theory, and changing my diet radically empirically supported it: I started feeling better straight away! Although this situation takes time to recover from, I could notice an immediate change. I no longer felt lethargic after meals, nor tired and stressed out for no reason. Skipping on the cheese is a hard one for me, but I’ve discovered coconut yoghurt with seeds, nuts and berries for breakfast is pretty tasty. And if this is how I can regain my balance and energy, then that’s what I will happily do. And take a stash of supplements on top of it.
Back to Suncuius. Although I’d been on a few enjoyable hikes, it just didn’t feel right for me to be there, and I knew I needed a change of scenery. So I took the train to Cluj where I met up with Wilbert – who had taken more than two weeks’ leave, yay! And we were on a mission: to follow up on last year’s land hunt in the Retezat Mountains! In a nutshell: we want to buy land at the foot of the Retezat Mountains together with a befriended Romanian couple. We want to create a pied-a-terre there, but also want to turn it into a small campsite for fellow mountain and nature lovers! So we went to check the land we found again and talked to the owner. It’s all looking good, but we need to wait for the paperwork and that could take a while. Fingers crossed! It will be so great to have a place of our own without having to drag my luggage from one place to the next all the time.
That brings me to the next chapter: Sibiu! After my false start in Suncuius and with all the health troubles going on, I thought long and hard in what kind of place I wanted to be instead. And the answer was Sibiu! If you don’t know this lovely little Saxon town yet, you should definitely visit it one day. I’ll devote a separate blog post to it soon. I wrote this post about it in 2017, and this one in 2018. Quite a few things have changed though, so it’s time for an update!
I’ve rented a studio in the Lower Town for a month, and it has one of the best views in town. It’s on a quiet street yet close to everything: supermarkets, the old city centre, and I can see the Fagaras mountains from my window on clear days! The proximity to the mountains and its compact size with all the benefits of a larger city makes Sibiu a total winner, and I’ve decided it’s now my favourite town in Romania. Here, I can rest and recover, and start going on modest adventures. And develop new projects!
Yoga & hiking retreat
One of the reasons I am here in Romania this year – other than that I feel I have to be here – is that I am planning to organize a yoga & hiking retreat! Listening to my audience and looking at the state of the world, I’ve come to realize that I’m far from the only one who needs breathing space. Space to rest and digest, to connect with nature, yourself and others. I cannot think of a better place than the mountains, hills and countryside of Romania, which is why I’m endeavouring to organize my first-ever yoga & hiking retreat this year! I’m busy exploring beautiful locations and hikes, and connecting with interesting people. Hopefully the first retreat will take place late August or early September – to be followed by more retreats next year! If you’re interested, you can find more info on this page, and fill out the questionnaire.
“You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.”Mahatma Gandhi
Hiking in the Cindrel Mountains
The Cindrel Mountains are Sibiu’s backyard. A one-hour bus ride takes you up to the ski resort of Paltinis, and from there you can hike up all the way to Cindrel Peak (2244m) – which is what Wilbert and I did earlier this month! I’ll write a separate blog post about that and other hikes, but I can’t help leaving a few sneak peeks here.
That’s it for now. I know, this post is outrageously long and Yoast SEO definitely does not approve, and few people may reach the end of it but I needed to write this down and sling it into a far-flung corner of the Internet. So there. And thank you if you did read it all. It’s quite a feat. Next up is a hiking post, promise. Onward & upward!
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”Arthur Ashe
Buy my guidebook!
Are you planning to go hiking in Romania? You might want to buy my guidebook, ‘The Mountains of Romania‘! It offers 27 multi-stage treks and 10 day hikes all over Romania. It contains an extensive description of each hike, lots of practical info, overview maps, an accommodation appendix, a language guide, and comes with free gpx files. There is an e-book version as well! This is a project that I put my heart and soul in; I’d be so chuffed if you bought it! If you buy it directly from the publisher I get 10% royalties.
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