After being a very happy participant in the 2014 Traveling Summer University of AEGEE-Cluj-Napoca: “I’m ready to play coach Dracula”, I was invited to write an article about it. It’s been about a year since then and the memories of my participation in it still bring big smiles on my face! Here’s my article:
Disclaimer: The following text is full of inside jokes, as every SU description that respects itself and wants to be read again and again by the participants should be.
Before the TSU of AEGEE-Cluj-Napoca and AEGEE-Sibiu began, we were informed that the whole thing was prepared by Dracula himself and that we would eventually meet him. Sadly, after two weeks I can say the organizers lied to us… We never met Dracula. We danced, learned how to flirt in Romanian, drunk sangria, exchanged clothes, hiked on mountains, swam in a lake, visited beautiful cities and heard stories about attempts to conquer them and all this time he never appeared. Not even once… But let me tell you the whole story.
Our adventure began in the city of Cluj-Napoca. An ancient city we’ve been told, now a student city, with more than 100.000 students roaming around the city, many of them international. Also the European Youth Capital for 2015! We were hosted in a cozy hostel in a beautiful part of the city that still retains its medieval structure where soon all the participants started gathering, some shy, some making jokes, some Spanish, but all with a smile on their face, not knowing what would strike them in the days to come. After registering and receiving t-shirts mentioning the one we’d never meet, we went to the city park and started playing games to get to know each other. It’s always interesting how little the first impression can tell you about a person and how rich your personality becomes the more and different people you meet, especially in fast-paced experience-packed events like a SU! Well, anyway, for the next three days we would learn how to flirt in Romanian (didn’t work), how to juggle (apparently something Spanish people learn at school), we tested our echo in the impressive salt mine of Turda, we partied every night, we learned the history of Cluj Napoca (including balls – don’t ask) and we got separated into teams in order for the fun competitive games to begin with a pub crawl that involved much more than just drinking – it involved a clever way to get to know the city. And I can definitely say this is a city I want to visit again and again.
On the fourth day, we departed for Cheile Turzii on the Apuseni mountains. Now, if you’ve never visited Transylvania before and you see these mountains, you’re in for a treat… A rural area with a stunning view of beautiful green mountains the like of which you may never witness elsewhere! And of course we hiked a lot on them. Everyday we hiked to a different part of them and saw magnificent tops, caves, the Aries river and unspoiled forests that can only be matched by the experiences we had on them. And experiences we did have… Watching the most amazing sceneries while rafting in the river, diving to a natural “jacuzzi” where you can still find balls from centuries ago, playing football in the rain, working out in the showers, beat-boxing for no reason, making roller-coaster routes out of paper (only one of which had a loop – blue team rulez!), chasing towels, getting dirty, singing, hitting the floor dancing, playing kinky games by the campfire, upgrading the gossip box to new levels, learning ancient Greek secrets on human sexuality, learning “how to use this”, using part of the building’s facilities as clothing for the anything but clothes party or exchanging clothes in the Rubik’s cube party, discussing about Eur-optimism and Youth Unemployment, becoming knights, drinking sangria from a bucket, eating stroopwafel from other participants, drinking the original jagermeister, dancing traditional dances and tasting traditional food, sweets and drinks from 12 different countries in the European night… Oh, these mountains are so full of some of the most beautiful memories of my life, that I’ll never forgive the organizers for taking up so much space in my mind and heart and make me wish for even more…
So, after four unforgettable days on the Apuseni mountains, the time has come to return to modern civilization and visit Hunedoara. In just one day you cannot do much, yet we managed to meet some locals, played some games, watched a movie, we kept on with the gossip workshops and most importantly, we visited the Corvin Castle Museum and learned a lot about Romanian history and its strong defenses against the Ottomans and not only them.
The next day it was time to relax, so we spend it all in Cincis lake. A beautiful lake on top of the mountains, where we practiced different styles of diving and swimming, from ridiculous to professional levels (mostly ridiculous), played some games and of course found time for our now beloved sport, gossiping.
Already on the 11th day, we feel like we’ve known each other for ages. We have after all done a lot together. But there’s still a lot more. We’re visiting Sibiu, another beautiful city, with its eyes on top of the houses, the famous bridge of lies and the elegant churches. The center of Romania’s German minority since the middle ages, as our guide explains. A city so romantic that makes us want to spend more time here, yet our tour has even more beauty to reveal… Cause in the afternoon, we’re confirming that Transfăgărășan is indeed the most beautiful route in all Europe! The trip lasts for a while, but we all stand in awe watching the view from the windows, a view that only gets more beautiful as we’re approaching the top, where we can’t believe that we’re actually spending time in a lake that looks like it just sprang out of an oil painting! We’re tasting traditional delicacies, get to the top of a hill, and take photos (or should I say pictures? :p ) of this fantastic view before enjoying our way down and go to our next destination, the city of Brasov, where the first thing we do is a party with AEGEE București.
The first day in Brasov begins with an adventure. We’re going to Aventura Park and we’re preparing for some monkey business in the forest. We’re all happy like little children, but the routes prove quite challenging and require the best of us! Never minding a few scratches, we’re up to the challenge and we prove ourselves worthy. Well, for most of it anyway… The city tour in the afternoon tells us more about the Crown City and its history while we walk in narrow streets, around the cathedral, under roman inscriptions, through a bollywood scene (true story) and we learn all about the city, from medieval times and the famous Vlad Tepes to the dictator Ceausescu in modern Romanian history. The next day we visit Peleş Castle, one of the most beautiful castles we’ve ever seen, elegantly decorated inside out and placed on the perfect spot. In the afternoon, time for more action, as we’re hiking through the 7 Stairs Canyon, wondering how many beautiful places you can fit in just one SU. And on the last day, we’re finally visiting Bran Castle, also famous as Dracula’s castle. And you would expect to find him here of course, placed in such a dramatic scenery, but to no avail… He probably never even came here as we’re being told. By contrast, it’s the kind Queen Mary that stayed here. Well, we can’t really complain, as we’re visiting another beautiful castle, so we’re going with the flow. We visited two castles and a canyon, hiked to the top of the Brasov sign and learned a lot about history while in the city, but it wouldn’t be an AEGEE event without games and parties of course, so we also had fun pulling each other, doing bag races, eating bananas, dancing salsa in the morning, getting social in the wifi corner, losing keys but finding the party room, walking through the city dressed either as bearded ladies or vampires and generally being naughty and nice at the same time.
It is the last official day and we have to leave Brasov and get back to our beloved Cluj, but not without first visiting Sighisoara, the only fortress in the world where people have continued to live continuously! Vlad Tepes was also born here, so we’re getting closer to him, but we’re accepting the fact that we won’t meet him after all. We’re visiting an old elementary school and a nice cemetery, take some nice group photos, say lame German jokes and we’re back on our way to Cluj. The night is long and it’s the last night, so there’s sadness in the air… The goodbye ceremony and the funny awards remind us of the good times we had in these two weeks that feel like years and we all hug each other, promise that we’ll meet somewhere in Europe and…prepare for our last party.
What can I say. The organizers are liars… We never met Dracula. But the truth is they never could have said the truth about what we would meet instead – something far more real and impressive than any mythical creature, something you can only understand by experience and not by words. The feeling that all Europeans are part of one big family and the fact that Europe is becoming a better place because of that.
Thank you participants for making this fun, thank you organizers for making this real and thank you AEGEE for making this possible!