Sunday morning, we got up and got ready for church. We ate breakfast at the hotel, which always consisted of an odd assortment of cold meats and cheese slices, as well as that same carrot salad from the plane, but I did find a little raisin and cheese pastry that I liked, so I ate that every day, with fresh fruit salad. I live for breakfast, so these were not my most favorite mornings.
We took a bus to the church where the LDS branch met. We were early, so I had time to meet people. Everyone was extremely friendly and smiled and shook my hand. I met a girl who is headed to BYU in the fall. Another lady came up and I said "Hi" and she turned to Ben and said, "I can't understand her at all," and Ben told her that it's because I was speaking English. I always loved listening to Ben converse with Romanians because they always sounded like they were arguing with him. They would be going off and Ben would just be nodding and saying "Da" or "Bine" and I figured he was losing the battle, whatever it was. I would always ask afterwards, "What's wrong?" He would just tell me that they're argumentative by nature, no harm was really meant by it. (Although I did see a few people clearly yelling at a train station ticket agent and a security guard--I just wish I knew what they were yelling at them.)
Once the meeting began, I looked around at the congregation. There were about thirty people in the chapel, and at least eight of those were missionaries. Of the remaining people, there was only one couple and everyone else seemed to be individual men and women, there alone. Some of the women sat together, and there were no children. When we started singing the opening hymn, "How Firm a Foundation," I began to sing in English. Ben stopped me and whispered, "You're going to throw them off--they don't know the songs that well." So I switched to singing Romanian as best I could by listening to Ben. In the closing song, "We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet," we actually sang Mila's name in the line "We'll sing of his goodness and mercy," so that was cool. In case you're wondering, "mila" means "mercy" in Romanian.
My overall impression of the members in Romania was that they are not many, but the few that are there are admirable. The retention rate is very low and Ben said that none of the people that attended church when he was a missionary are there anymore, including the branch president. That said, I really like to think that some of the people we met will continue to attend church, despite all of the struggles they face. There was one young man in particular who bore his testimony. He could not have been much older than eighteen, and yet he possessed more spiritual wisdom than many members I know who have gone their whole lives. I was truly impressed. After the meeting, I also met a sweet older man who works in the mission home. He told Ben that he wanted to visit Salt Lake some day and he also told him that he felt like he's known him forever, even though they'd only met two weeks before.
Many of these people face incredible hardships because of their dedication to the LDS faith, such as their families being torn apart. To remain 100% active after such a trial would be an incredible feat. They are amazing people.
After church, we went to Pizza Hut for lunch. That place has NEVER tasted so good. It tastes better there, I swear. When the waiter asked us if we wanted ketchup for our pizza, I thought it was funny because Ben had told me that Romanians put ketchup all over their pizza then eat it with a fork and knife.
I noticed that a boy about eight years old at a table near us had a glass of beer in front of him. At one point, I looked over and the dad was helping the boy drink it. The boy made a disgusted face and returned to eating his ketchup-smothered pizza. I tell you what, it's not often you see THAT happen in Utah.
Our next stop was a tour of the House of the People, now known as the Palace of the Parliament. It was built in the 80's by Ceausescu and is the second largest building in the world, next to the Pentagon. Basically, it is a tragedy that it was ever built and it stands as a permanent manifestation of the things that can go terribly wrong with communism. The palace is gorgeous, unimaginably stunning in every way. The only problem is, Romania cannot afford it, and they never have been able to. Ceausescu put all of the people's money and resources into the construction of a monster that they would never be allowed to enter. Romanians were starving in the streets, could not buy bread, and yet Ceausescu continued to put the country into more and more debt in order to complete his masterpiece.
Today, the Palace houses the Parliament, but we went on an hour long tour and only covered 3% of the building. Ben and I figured that it must cost the country millions annually for maintenance. It's ridiculous.
The ballroom, which is the largest room in the Palace
Our tour guide told us a funny story about how Michael Jackson came to the Palace in the 80's and stood on the balcony to address the people. He said, "Hello, Budapest!" Then guess who did the very same thing not too long ago? That's right. Good old George W. Us Americans is smart!
I left the Palace feeling a little sad. Sad that one man's greed to have the best building in the world had cost thousands their lives. Talk about a valuable lesson on the evils of excess. I feel the need to be a lot less frivolous materialistically speaking.
We took the metro to Gara de Nord to make a delivery for a friend of mine. Ty was in Romania back in January, shooting a documentary about homeless street kids living in the sewers of the train station. Ty is also the one who probably freaked me out more than anyone about what to expect in Romania. After he asked me to deliver a book of pictures to a kid at the station, he advised me to go with Ben, as we would have a better chance of not being jumped because they feared "mother figures," having no mothers themselves. He also added that he's been jumped twice and would say things like, "Have a fun trip--I hope you don't die." My friends are awesome like that.
Making Ty's delivery actually turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip to Romania. We found Marian at the flower shop across from the train station, just where Ty said he would be. When we mentioned Ty's name, his face lit up immediately and he said, "Ty is my best friend! Last time I saw him, I had no home, and now I have a job and a home and I am good." I felt so happy for this stranger and he was so happy to see us. He and his friend pointed themselves out to us in the pictures Ty had taken, and his friend added, "In that picture, I had drugs, but now no more drugs--clean." They both grinned. Then Marian gave me his new cell phone number for Ty and we said good-bye. I'm so glad I was able to be a part of that exchange.
On the metro going away from the train station, an interesting/terrifying thing happened. At one stop, there were deafening screams right before the doors shut and about twenty blue-jumpsuit-clad construction workers stormed the train. I totally thought that it was a stagecoach stick-up at first, except we were on a subway and the cowboys were gypsies. I guess they really didn't want to miss that train! The gypsy construction workers seemed like jolly enough guys, despite the overwhelming smells of body odor and sweat that they brought to the party, and I told Ben as much. He said, "Are you crazy? They are foul!" Well, excuse me, but I don't speak Romanian and so how was I supposed to know they were making dirty jokes? At least they were actually smiling and having a good time! Even if they were doing it by trying to look down female passengers' shirts...
To finish off the day, Ben took me to the old part of Bucharest, and we found the ruins of the fortress of Vlad Tepes, better known to you as Dracula. Someone was having a wedding at a church right next to the ruins. We also went inside an old church that I'm pretty sure was moved from its original location, as it was in the way of the Palace's construction. It was tiny and peaceful and beautiful. We walked around seeing more buildings and taking more pictures. I commented to Ben that I had actually gotten used to the smell in the air and no longer noticed it. However, I have to admit I had seen all of Bucharest that I wanted to see and was ready to board a plane the next day for Paris!
Ben standing in front of the cheesy Count Dracula Club
The following are some pictures that Ben took before I came, but I like them:
The following are some pictures that Ben took before I came, but I like them: