Just a quick update:
I finally left Romania on September 4th, after one last get-together in the village of Jupani with Tibi, Simona, Tibi's mom and Simona's parents. Tibi cooked a paprikash for the farewell dinner, and cracked open some home-made walnut cognac that he'd been saving for a special occasion. The next morning Tibi and Simona saw me off at the train station. Flavia was also there, waiting for me; she surprised me with a big bag of food for the trip. Our goodbyes felt surreal. It all seemed as in a dream. I stuck my head out the window to wave farewell as the train slowly pulled away from the station. It was hard for me to believe that I wouldn't be returning any time soon. In fact, I'm still not sure that realization has fully set in.
From Romania, my first stop was Budapest. I stayed just for the weekend. I've been to Budapest so many times over the course of the past two years that I'm pretty familiar with the place. Thus, it was a good place to begin my westward journey. By complete coincidence, Liz (a fellow Peace Corps volunteer) and her family were in town. I met up with them, and we went out to dinner at Gerbeaud's.
Following Budapest was Vienna. Upon arrival I knew nothing about the city. Heck, I didn't even have a map, or any clue where I was going to spend the night. But, in the end it all worked out, and I got to know Vienna quite well. I stayed in a hostel the first few nights, but later managed to contact a girl through couchsurfing.org. She let me stay at her place in the south of the city. I was impressed by Vienna's elegance, incredible architecture and beautiful gardens. My host suggested some great things to see and do, and even took me out for a night time bike ride through the city. And in case you're wondering, yes, I did eat a wienerschnitzel.
I'm currently in Berlin. I got a ride with a guy who was driving from Vienna last Friday. We drove through Prague, and then up through Dresden at a speed I never would have imagined his little van could handle. Arriving in Berlin at about 1:oo am, I had nothing but an address and a phone number of the guy with whom I was supposed to stay. Eventually I found his apartment building, and tried giving him a ring, but my call wouldn't go through (I found out later that I was entering the country code incorrectly). I wasn't sure what to do. I was so tired that I actually thought about just setting my stuff down in front of his gate and falling asleep right there. However, realizing that was just silly, I went for a walk until I found a payphone, dialed the number, and finally got in contact with my host. He welcomed me graciously, even at 2:00 in the morning. No sleeping on the sidewalk for me!
Berlin is quite different from Vienna and Budapest, both of which are fairly relaxed, laid back cities. Berlin, by contrast, seems to be younger and more energetic. It's also incredibly multi-cultural-- you can find anyone from anywhere here. My host is a freelance photographer and lives in a great apartment in a hopping part of East Berlin. The day after my arrival, he took me for a quick tour of the city on his motorcycle! He even gave me a map and let me borrow one of his bicycles to go out and explore the city. I spent the majority of the afternoon yesterday riding around; the weather was perfect. I stumbled upon the East Side Gallery, a section of the Berlin wall that's still standing, which local artists have turned into a giant mural. I also got some lunch at a Turkish cafe and hung out in Alexanderplatz. But there's so much still to explore...
I think I'll stay in Berlin until Tuesday, when I'll head West to Bremen, the city where Beck's beer is brewed. I'll be staying with a Romanian friend who lives there. If I'm lucky, I'll have access to a computer and be able to write a bit more. Till the next update!