For lack of a better cliche...in a place far from it
When I first told people I was going to Romania, the general response I got was an "um, why?" It's not on the typical European tourist trek, it's far from the tourist hotspot cities like Paris, Amsterdam and Madrid in mainland Europe, and most people--myself included--know basically nothing about it, besides that Transylvania is home to all the Darcula legends and of course his castle (below).
But while I was working in Thailand I befriended a girl from there, and decided since my trip runs on moments of spontaneity, I would go check it out for a couple of days. It was absolutely worth it.
My five days in Romania were spent in Transylvania, specifically the quaint but beautiful mountain town of Predeal and the history-rich city of Brasov. And first things first: there is much more to Transylvania than just Dracula. Of course, my trip to Bran Castle was great and I especially enjoyed imagining Dracula sitting at the piano and playing haunting tunes to his guests in the frosty candlelight...
but even more memorable than the Dracula phenomenon that is quite likely the main--if only--thing that originally brings tourists to Transylvania is the countryside dotted with gypsy villages, ancient and story-riddled fortresses, sheep farms and expansive views of green rolling hills laid out like carpet in front of the majestic mountains. It wasn't what I was expecting--I actually had no idea what to expect before arriving there--but it far exceeding anything I was latently hoping for.
Just Romania would have been enough to make me appreciate Eastern Europe. For five days following Romania though, I did a thorough tour of Bulgaria, from the Northeastern city of Rouse to the Southwestern capital Sofia with the jaw-dropping Black Sea:
the authentic medieval, mountain town of Veliko Tornovo:
and Plovdiv, the artistic hub of Bulgaria, visited in between. Come to find out, Plovdiv will be named the "cultural capital of Europe" in 2019, so my appreciation for this city--and the entire country's--rich cultural and historic atmosphere was far from imagined.
Bulgaria, like Romania, had some of the most spectacular nature and history coursing through it, making every site visited and nearly every road driven on, an incredible if not jaw-dropping experience. So it's hard to pinpoint the "best part" of my week+ spent in a Eastern Europe. There were too many beautiful sites and fun, historically relevant things to learn about for me to pick just one. So I think my favorite part of my trip to Eastern Europe is more metaphorical in nature, as this whole world journey has inevitably become. Eastern Europe was a reminder to me of the richness and fulfillment life can bring when we are open to spontaneity and wandering excitedly into the unknown. For lack of a better cliche, sometimes the best things in life really are unplanned...like John Lennon once sang, "life is what happens while you're busy making other plans."