Europe 2017: Haide, Cluj Napoca

I write from an airport terminal in Istanbul. I’m bound for Amsterdam where I will stay for almost two weeks before heading back to Ukraine. I’ll explain, but first, let me catch you up to speed on the past week.

As my trip to France met its conclusion and I still didn’t know yet what was to come, a dear acquaintance who lives in Cluj, Romania graciously agreed to host me for an indeterminate amount of time while I figured out what was next. I hoped that would amount to just a day or two, and in fact God came through with answers in that amount of time, but it was incredibly kind of her to accept my visit when I didn’t yet know what my next step would be.

So off I went from Montpellier (France) by way of Barcelona to Cluj. I was picked up from the airport by my friend and spent a total of six days and seven days with her, her elderly parents that spend half the year with her, and her various communities.

Cluj Napoca in its glory

Though there’s always more that could be conveyed, I’ll share the highlights of my time in Cluj. A quiet, more rural city than the bustling metropolis of Bucharest in the south to which I normally travel when I visit Romania, I was captivated by its rolling green terrain, inviting streets, sincere populace, and demure way of life. I surely hope to visit again.

The gym at our beloved music school

My first full day in Cluj, I accompanied my friend to her work – she holds a post as a PE teacher at a public k-12 music school (yes, they make such things – music schools AND PE teachers to enrich them). I got to talk to each class at the start of the period for a few minutes, introducing myself and answering fantastic questions about America posed by my middle school and high school audiences. (“Do you have a gun?” came up a couple times, as well as “Do you meet a lot of famous people in Chicago?”; and all but one class asked about whether Trump was really crazy.) After the conclusion of the school day, we drove up one of Cluj’s many hills to a good lookout site and surveyed the city whilst enjoying good theological conversation.

A downtown Catholic Cathedral

The next few days, I enjoyed coming alongside my friend and experiencing her normal routine. I spent a couple mornings exploring Cluj’s compact and charmingly quaint downtown and working in coffee shops while my friend was at school with her students. Then in the afternoon or evening we would go and visit a Cluj site or two, attend a meeting at a mall one evening, get errands out of the way (we went to the dentist one afternoon), or simply hang at home to write or talk summer camp ideas while watching tennis or soccer on tv with her parents.

The incredible cavernous salt mine we visited

We did squeeze in a few adventurous events in while I was in town. We spent Saturday exploring a huge salt mine in the hills surrounding Cluj that has been opened to the public. Then we went on a hike first through a gorge and then up and over one of its walls, amounting to several glorious hours outside in perfect weather.

One of our favorite views

Last night, after a great day full of church and then a cookout and Bible study with her small group, we attended the second game in the final series between Cluj’s professional basketball team and their rival, Bucharest. The game turned out to be a riot, almost literally due to the fervent passion and (apparently) vulgar language of the clashing groups of fans in attendance. It was quite exciting. Cluj won, and we drove home and split a Romanian beer to celebrate before hitting the sack.

They don't make games like this in the States

All too soon, our week of good conversations, Romanian home cooking, beautiful summer’s eve weather, meeting new friends, and a wonderful glimpse of “life as usual” came to a close. Now I’m off to the next crazy adventure. Since I plan to coach in Ukraine for the month of June and still have almost two full weeks until my start date of June 5th, I received a handy tip from my good Stateside friend Carls of a Christian hostel in Amsterdam where you can work for your board while rubbing shoulders with backpackers and sojourners. Sounds great to me. So off I go.

More updates soon,


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