In Defense of GPS

As a self-proclaimed bibliophile, I love paper: the touch, the smell, the je ne sais quoi that bubbles up as I walk into a new library. So when a close friend and I had to decide whether to rent GPS or use a map on a road trip through Romania, I was a bit surprised at my eagerness to rent the GPS. I had to remind myself that, contrary to what Arthur Weasley thinks, you can trust an object even if you can’t see its brain.

Bran Castle Photo Credit: Maija Butler

Bran Castle
Photo Credit: Maija Butler

GPS installed, we began our road trip. On our way to Sibiu, we drove to Bran Castle (made famous by Bram Stoker’s tome Dracula), then hung a left at Highway 7C, also known as Transfăgărășan, the most beautiful road in the world, according to Top Gear.

Thankfully, I drove on the way up; I’m not completely convinced I’ve conquered my vertigo. Every other turn brought us to the edge of the mountain, trees and certain death below. We made it to the top far faster than we’d assumed given the mountain’s height.

Snakeskin Road

Snakeskin Road Photo Credit: Maija Butler

We got out of the car and looked around. To my right, a snowboarder hopped onto the railing of a staircase, then back onto the snow, slowly slowing to a stop. In front of me bikers of the vroom-vroom kind drove one by one through a small opening in a tunnel. Nearby a stream began, thickening as more and more snow began to melt. Behind me the Transfăgărășan looped down the Carpathian Mountains through poianas– or glades- and forests, reminding me of an unbroken snake skin shed for the coming Midsummer.

Me wearing summer clothes in winter weather Photo Credit: Maija Butler

Me wearing summer clothes in winter weather Photo Credit: Maija Butler

As I crossed the path of a glacial stream, the water swam over the bottom of my leather sandals, icing my insoles. My friend and I were relatively quiet, a considerable feat for us. Something about a view like that shuts you up.

The silence at the top of the mountain contrasted with Poiana’s chatty drive down. “Shut up, Poiana” became a favorite saying on the road. But despite, or perhaps because of Poiana’s pickiness, her awful British pronunciation of Romanian, and needless updates, we had grown fond of our navigator. 1/3 of a very competent travel team, Poiana led us to our espresso machine-sauna-pool filled Bed & Breakfast, to a new apartment block we didn’t trust to be our destination, and to one of the most beautiful roads I’ve traversed.

Though paper maps work even when their batteries die, they’ll never voice the words you’ve been longing to hear: “You have arrived at your destination”.

Summer Sauna Sweat

When you find a property at €10 a night with a pool, espresso machine, and sauna, you take it, for these are the unicorns of the travel world.

The Hammock at La Despani

The Hammock at La Despani

After staying at La Despani in Brașov, Romania for one night with a good friend from university, I decided to return and enjoy some good ol’ fashion R&R. BONUS: The owners said they would be running the smoke-run sauna on Sunday if I came back.

As I peeled off my backpacks at 6 pm when I arrived at La Despani for the second time, one of the owners told me the sauna would be ready around 8. So would I!



Going into the 100 °C sauna, (that’s 212 °F, folks) I immediately began to sweat. My pores opened up, drinking in the mint and sage steam that rose from the rocks; that sizzling “TSZZZZZZZZ” sound gushed forth as the owner splashed water on them. After about ten minutes, I started to feel like a turkey basting on Thanksgiving, so I exited the sauna and jumped in the pool. Dead skin cells practically jumped off my body and my legs felt like dolphin skin.

This seemed to me a good circuit: sweat it out in the sauna, then shock your body with a splash in the pool. Only one thing was missing. I needed hydration for my throat as well as my skin. My newly revised circuit became: sauna, pool, beer (Repeat).



Needless to say, I felt every sort of wonderful after completing this circuit a few times. Once I figured there were no more dead skin cells on my body, the owner invited us into his man cave/bar to try some homemade cognac. I obliged, and was joined by an Estonian (remember the lovely Estonian couple from last week?) and a French couple, in addition to the Romanian owner.

As often happens when you travel, and 100% of the time with people from various countries, we attempted to solve the world’s problems with spirited discussion. A couple of glasses of cognac in, we defended and decried French laicism. “Would that work in other countries?” Only more cognac would tell.

Anytime you’re wondering how to pass a relaxing evening followed by world changing revelations, just follow this recipe:
1. Sweat in a sauna.
2. Jump in a pool.
3. Drink some ____ (beer for me).
4. Discuss critical world issues with a posse of peeps from across the world.
5. Add homemade liquor for maximum effectiveness.
6. The world most definitely becomes a better place.

Soft & Lumpy: A Song of Wind and Walking


I Saw the Sign….in Brașov

After a week spent catching up (watching Kit Harington interviews, reading excerpts from Winds of Winter, refreshing my knowledge of the R+L=J theory), my soft, lumpy flesh was ready to move. Or rather, my mind told my soft, lumpy flesh it was ready to move.

Having lain in bed a few too many days reading and watching Game of Thrones, I decided the city I was staying in was indeed Braavos, not Brașov, Romania. Though nothing alike (one exists, one doesn’t), large monuments watch over both cities. In the case of Braavos, it’s a titan through whose legs you enter the city by ship (picture the Colossus of Rhodes). In Brașov –the real city– a Hollywoodesque sign of ten meter white block letters stands in the Carpathian Mountains above. After meeting some lovely Estonians who climbed up to the sign, I decided I would do it too.

The Hollywood Sign of Romania

The Hollywood Sign of Romania

Again, I had been lazing away the last six days in bed, fantasizing about dragons and snow-zombies. So my last day in Romania seemed a good time to finally get off my butt and let it feel some air.

My directions made sense (walk towards the sign, then up, towards the sign). For the day-trip, I wore a backpack with a few things inside: water, scarf, jacket, tablet computer. But as I started walking, I realized how heavy my backpack felt. The straps tugging at my shoulders, I strained my lungs trudging up the hill. When I took off my backpack to catch my breath, a dark sweat stain spread across the back of its forest green canvas. The Estonians said it took about forty-five minutes to get to the sign. Fat chance, I thought.

Though your body be soft and lumpy, finishing something physical often requires more mental mettle than brute strength. Each time I stopped to sip some water, I didn’t think of quitting, but instead how useless my body had been the preceding week. And that I would make sure to improve its usefulness during the following six months.

Cursing and wiping my sweat-salted eyes on my sweat-wicking dress, I wondered how much longer than the Estonians’ forty-five minutes it would take me to get to the top. But as I stepped from a forest-shaded trail to an expanse of sunny glade, I no longer cared. A friendly wind cooled my neck and brow as I shut my eyes and smiled. Even in Westeros, such a view would be precious.

The City Behind the B

The City Behind the B

When I finally reached the Brașov sign, I sat for a bit. Then I took some pictures, no small feat since I was forced to take them with no viewfinder or screen. As I turned off my tablet, the computer’s clock showed the time. How long had it taken my soft, lumpy flesh to reach the top? About forty-five minutes 🙂