In 2008 while at a wedding in Romania I met the woman who would eventually become my wife. She was beautiful, sweet and kind (and still is!) I plan on telling the story of how we met at a later time (maybe for our anniversary) but there are a lot of little stories that lead to our happy ever after.
After returning to the states the summer of ’08 I was starstruck and spent a great deal of time thinking about the angel that graced my life half a world away. At this point long distance calling was still rather expensive and VoIP was not widely available so we relied heavily on Yahoo instant messenger. At that point I was working in the customer service department of a company assisting with pharmacy automation/robotics issues. The company was still pretty small and they had not yet installed a company wide messaging system so 3rd party apps like AIM (AOL Instant Messenger), Jabber, MSN Messenger and the likes were available to be used on your work PC without approval. (Hell, they were still using pagers for when we were on call!)
Although there is an 8-hour time difference most of the year we found time to chat nearly every day during my morning/her evening. It was the typical puppy dog love stuff like finding out each other’s favorite movies and thoughts on any topic I could conjure up so long as it meant I got more of her attention. Although I wouldn’t suggest it now, I would engage in these conversations even when speaking verbally to customers on the phone. Luckily, I had enough experience that I could fix most issues from memory and knew the right probing questions to ask that lead to swift conclusions.
My whole life I’ve heard talk about how challenging long distance relationships can be and this was no exception. When you can’t see or touch someone and in this case rarely even hear their voice it can be taxing emotionally. Add in the fact that while she knew English she was out of practice and would struggle to find the right words sometimes. Still, I contribute the challenges of this time to the strength of our relationship now. Often new couples get tunnel vision and focus more on physical bonding then the cerebral. I couldn’t kiss her when I went to work or stare deeply in her eyes saying some cheesy line. We had to build on ideas, on the concept of love (although we weren’t using that term this early on). By getting to know each other on a deeper level when we were eventually able to be together in the same household we knew exactly who each other was and fell into a health relationship easily.
Late in the fall of that year she invited me to come visit her for New Year’s where I could meet her family. Having only met in person twice, both in the same week, while visiting her country I was both excited and nervous about the prospect. I was a single father of 3 rather young kids and had just made a trip to Europe that year so there were a lot of logistics to work out both with the children and the finances. Luckily I had begun purchasing Christmas presents early and had slowly been rebuilding my savings but still had to take a loan out to fund the trip.
I had previously worked in the travel industry and with the help of a few friends was able to find a reasonable fair to Bucharest a couple of days before New Years Eve. I landed in Henri Coandă International Airport at 6 AM local time having traveled nearly 24 hours spread over 3 flights and layovers. There is but one terminal and as you exist the baggage collection area there is a single sliding door followed by ropes that direct the flow of passengers directly to the right. All along the ropes are Romanians waiting anxiously for friends and family to exit. With butterflies in my stomach I stepped out into the light and saw dozens of faces clamoring to see inside the terminal. At the very end of this row partially obscured behind a bright orange stocking cap was the brightest of smiles just for me.
I ran up and gave her a big hug nearly lifting her off the ground. She hugged me back but due to the size difference she was barely able to get her arms around me. Mind you I wasn’t as fat as I am now but I still have some pretty big shoulders. After a couple of quick exchanges she turned and introduced me to her sister, Dana and brother-in-law Bogdan. Owning a vehicle in Romania is far less common than it is here in the states and they were kind enough to drive down to pick me up in Bogdan’s car. Much like the Kansas City airport the parking is quite close to the gates so we were able to quickly make it to the car. I had traveled light as I knew we had a long road trip ahead of us so we threw my bags in the car and were off.
The Bucharest airport is on the North side of town but it was still a 2 hour drive to her hometown of Râmnicu Sărat. Situated at the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains and just an hour from the black sea it’s a small town of less than 30,000 people. The jet lag I was experiencing when I landed had washed away and months of anticipation lead to some passionate exchanges in the backseat of that car. I think it was a good hour before we stopped making out (sorry kids) and proceeded to stare at each other while whispering sweet nothings to each other. We stayed at her sisters place, a Ceaușescu era concrete apartment complex building erected at the height of communism in the country. 100 steps lead to the top floor of the building where they lived, and a lack of lighting mixed with frigid winds made for a creepy assent.
The inside of their apartment was quite nice compared to the outside appearance of the building but only one room had heating meaning that the bulk of the space was unusable in the winter. Romanians insist on the use of slippers (she had purchased me a new pair to use) which I believe is direct effect of the lack of carpet in most homes. Our stay here was brief as the next morning we were heading out to a villa we had rented in Gârda de Sus a scant 10-hour drive Northwest towards the boarder with Hungary. Along for the journey was Bogdan’s brother Razvan and Cristina and Costel the godparents to Dana and Bogdan. We took two cars with Cristina and Costel leading the way and hauling all the gear and the rest of us all crammed into the second card. The distance traveled was just a little over 300 miles but at that time there was only one interstate type highway in Romania and it ran between the two largest cities which sadly were not on our path.
We paused only occasionally to stretch our legs but as I was still reeling from my previous voyage to get here I slept through a good chunk of the trip. A few narrow passes through the mountains with extreme elevation, no guard rails and wintery weather made for memorable and scary visuals. Late that evening we arrived at our destination, a beautiful villa tucked into the valley. There were 4 rooms so the couples were each afforded privacy, a kitchen and a large common room.
After settling in Cristina and Dana whipped up some schnitzel for dinner and we were finally able to sit together and catch up face to face. Following dinner we played a game of “mima” or mime which equated to charades. I had played this game before and did alright, but their skills were on point and I was more often than not the weakest link. Each round was played by the participants writing words on strips of paper and dropping them in a hat. When it was your turn you had to pull a slip out and act it out while your team guessed. My words were simple like “driving”, “airplane” or “chainsaw” whereas they used things like “cellulite”, “alphabetize” and “evolution”! The next day we went to visit the Scărişoara Glacier or “Ice Bear” Cave. It involved a deep decent into the mouth of the cave via a series of stairs. Once inside you were greeted with a frozen lake and an ice stalagmite that due to the way the water fell and the wind whipped through the cave formed to look like a bear roaring out of the water. It was epic! We stepped down from the platform that circled the lake and proceeded to slide across the frozen water, pseudo-ice skating back and forth. At the back of the cave was the skeletal remains of an animal that was reported to me was from a bear but according to Google right now was an ancient goat like creature (guess that explains why it was such a small “bear”).
That evening we watched “football” (soccer) and I debated the merits of “football” (American football) with my newfound friends. We drank “vien fiert” which is a type of hot wine mixed with spices and watched the countdown. “Trei”… “doi”… “unu”… “La Multi Ani!” For New Years Romanians call each other on the phone, something I have seen Americans do but not to the same level. Basically, the whole phone grid in the country comes crashing down as everybody simultaneously makes an outbound call. Not having a phone that worked overseas at this time I got to watch as they all franticly dialed and redialed numbers trying to reach as many people as they could. The next day it snowed pretty heavily and we took a horse drawn slay up to the top of a nearby mountain. The sleigh was large and could easily of held a dozen people and was lined with furs that you could wrap yourself in. As it was just the 7 of us and the driver we road along in comfort as massive fluffy snowflakes gently fell around us. When we reached the top we got out and played in the snow then drank hot coco. It was truly like something out of a movie and to this day a cherished moment. The stay was just a few days long but it still ranks among my favorite bonding moments with the woman I now proudly call my wife.