On the Road (day eighteen)

June 12, 2008

By hammersmith

Each summer the Flinn Scholars Program takes an entire class of Scholars to Budapest, Hungary, and neighboring Romania for a three-week seminar on the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe. Here’s a day-by-day account.

Cultural Palace

Arielle King (’07):

They descended upon us as we stumbled, blearly-eyed into the gas station convienence store in search of caffeine and chocolate. Still groggy with bus ride fatigue, we were caught woefully unawares, serving as the perfect prey for vicious, wildeyed bandits armed to the teeth. Luckily for the Flinns of 2007, I managed to deduce from their menacing glares that the bandits intended to steal our passports, make off with our lei, and ride away into the Romanian hills with as many credit cards as possible. Assessing the dire situation, I realized that I could only save the group by sacrificing myself. I valiantly tossed them my wallet and rushed the class into the safety of our four-wheeled fortress. Despite my losses, the comfort of knowing I’d become a legendary hero was all the comfort I needed.

In other words…

This morning I left my wallet on a gas-station coffee table and didn’t realize its conspicious absence until two hours and several hundred kilometers later. Admittedly, the bandits make a far better story. However, hidden in the mess of the most careless blunder I’ve ever committed, just so happens to be one of the most-valuable lessons I’ve learned so far on our Central European adventure. Never underestimate the power of Flinns (and thier fearless leaders) to pick you up, dust you off, and vault you back on your feet. Moments after I realized my wallet was missing, the entire group mobilized to graciously help me scour the bus, mentally retrace my footsteps, and generally maintain my fraying sanity. No one questioned how I could possibly have been so careless; instead, they united to help in every way possible.

Miraculously, we managed, as a team, to track down the gas station’s phone number. To my utter astonishment, the gas-station clerk assured us that the wallet had been picked up and was being held both safely and fully intact. Unfortunately, we still faced the impossible difficulty of retreiving it.

I promised Mada, our wonderful Romanian guide and the true hero of the day, that I’d adequately embellish her role in this drama as a token of my thanks. So, to make a long story short, Mada roared off to retrace our steps on her valliant steed, a crimson Ducati motorcycle with metallic flames licking its sides. Of course she returned victoriously, if slightly road-worn, with the infamous wallet and nothing less than her ever-present smile.

The moral of this story, in the end, can’t really be summed up in a single wise maxim. But the sheer kindness I’ve encountered today showed me a unique aspect of traveling that simply does not happen when things run smoothly. Losing every important document you own is pretty horrible anywhere, let alone in the middle of the Romanian countryside. Yet knowing that someone–or rather, 25 someones–have your back is an unbeatable feeling.

Although the drama of this morning was difficult to top, our afternoon in Targu Mures and evening in Cluj Napoca very nearly surpassed it in excitement. While Mada was off saving the day, the rest of the Flinns had the opportunity to explore the Cultural Palace of Targu Mures. Its stained glass windows in the Hall of Mirrors prompted a fireworks show of camera flashes as we admired their beauty. Inspired by Szeckler ethnographical traditions, ballads, legends, and myths from the Middle Ages, the windows were originally intended for the World’s Fair as a display of Transylvanian history. Unfortunately the first World War kept them in Romania.

After being blown away by the architecture and art of Targu Mures, we continued on to Cluj Napoca in western Romania. There we spent the evening watching Zurbolo, a vibrant and discussion-provoking Hungarain folk-dance presentation. On our way to dinner, Cole, Amy, Justin, and I discussed the intricate symbolism of the play and reached a consensus that it was both indignant at the slow deterioration of old tradtitions and modestly optimistic about the ability of future generations to preserve them. Our evenful day concluded with much-appreciated pizza, Romanian beer, and a football match. After trekking through three cities and multiple adventures, it was great to sit down and relax together.

Photo by Sarah Trainor (’07)