Care2Travel’s second ESC project 2020-1-RO01-ESC11-079435, entitled “Teach English in Villages through Non-formal activities” is ON! The first half of the activity period of our project is between 03 August 2020 and 02 February 2021. This album contains all the learning, fun & all activities our lovely ESC volunteers bring to the community of Miercurea Ciuc. This project is funded by the European Solidarity Corps of the European Union.
Between 11th of November 2019 and 17th of August 2020 Care2Travel Association hosted 4 European Solidarity Corps volunteers from the European Union who worked towards a change in the mentality of the locals of Miercurea Ciuc, so they respect their environment and keep it clean.
Ilona Éva Dudás (from Hungary), Francesco Tomasello (from Italy), Davide Gerbino (from Italy) and Gustavo González Pérez (from Spain) have organized and participated in numerous programs to reach their goals.
Here we list their achievements, which they reached by their dedication and work and can be proud of:
Organized and attended on the following one-off / structured activities:
8 Green English Clubs 3 Quiz Nights 1 Zero Waste Meeting 2 Green Crafts Activities 8 Conversational English Clubs
Youth involvement in our project:
The youth of Csíkszereda/Miercurea Ciuc was involved into an online environmental quiz called Kahoot. In this way they could gain more knowledge about their environment. Through the Kahoot game 140 students participated in the project.
Here is a THANK YOU for the schools which made this possible for us: Liceul Tehnologic ”Kós Károly” Miercurea Ciuc, Colegiului Național ”Márton Áron” Miercurea-Ciuc, Școala Gimnazială ”Márton Ferenc” Păuleni Ciuc, Școala Gimnazială ”Endes József” Sânsimion.
Through the Green English Clubs our volunteers have reached out to 20 persons and raised awareness about environmental issues.
During our volunteers’ litter picking actions, they have managed to involve 24 locals and cleared the areas of Tudor and Nagyrét/Lunca Mare in Miercurea Ciuc.
Upcycling workshops: 2 occasions with the involvement of altogether 8 people.
YOUTUBECHANNEL made by the volunteers, which is entitled ”The Cleaner Environment”.
On the local farmers’ market our volunteers lent 70 textile shopping bags and 200 paper bags to locals so they don’t buy environmentally damaging plastic bags. On the market there still is a box where locals can return the borrowed fabric bags so others can take them, in case they forgot to bring their own.
2018: 11731 tons of waste = 9148 tons of mixed waste + 2582 tons of selective waste (28%)
2019: 12069 tons of waste = 10051 tons of mixed waste + 2017 tons of selective waste (20%)
2020 first semester: 5831 tons of waste = 4687 tons of mixed waste + 1143 tons of selective waste (24%)
The above statistic means that the ratio of the selective waste from 2018 to 2019 fell by 8% and from 2019 to 2020 grew by 4%. We don’t know how much we have impacted to generate this growth, but it’s notable and we are hoping we could chip in to make our environment cleaner.
This whole project wouldn’t be possible without the help of our ESC volunteers.
Thank you Éva, Francesco, Davide and Gustavo for all your contribution to this project!
Here you can see the feedback video of Éva and Francesco:
Link for Francesco’s ESC volunteering experience at Care2Tavel:
Link for Éva’s ESC volunteering experience at Care2Tavel:
This weekend I had the pleasure to enjoy a weekend trip to Brasov and Bran, starting from and returning to Csíkszereda. In this post I’ll be sharing all the specifics to complete this trip, to facilitate the planning to all upcoming Care2Travel volunteers who wish to complete the same or a similar weekend trip. I’ll talk about topics like transportation, sightseeing, hikes and accommodation (which is basically all you need to organize this trip).
First things first, let me explain the general picture of what this trip looks like. It’s a two-day trip spending a night in Brasov. The night I spent in Brasov was a Saturday, which I would say makes the most sense if you’re volunteering throughout the week and want to take a two-day trip on the weekend. Day one is all about arriving in Brasov, seeing everything you can in the city center and lodging in Brasov once the day is over. Day two starts with a hike to see the most beautiful view of Brasov; it continues with travelling to Bran, visiting the castle, going on a hike (which is only for the ones who got some time to spare and really like hiking), travelling back to Brasov and then to Csíkszereda. Sounds good? Let’s get into the specifics. This post will be organized in chronological order, as I believe that this is the easiest way to tie all the specifics together.
R Train Csíkszereda-Brasov
To get from Csíkszereda to Brasov, the best option is to take a train, as it is really easy and quite fast. To see the timetables and prices of all the trains, I got into the web page that Care2Travel provides in its Induction package (www.infofer.ro). There are basically two types of trains that travel to Brasov: the R (Regional) trains and the IR (InterRegional) trains (if you travel at night there are IRN trains but I don’t imagine you’ll be needing those). The first ones are slower but cheaper. The second ones are faster but more expensive. Also, you can purchase the tickets online and reserve seats on the IR trains, and on the R trains you have to purchase the ticket in the station and there is no seat reservation. Nevertheless, to choose which train to travel with I would worry more about the times at which they travel. To go to Brasov, I took a R train (the one that leaves Csíkszereda at 2:58 PM and arrives at Brasov at 5:21 PM, as that was the best time for me) and I had no problem whatsoever: I just arrived at the Csíkszereda station, purchased the ticket in less than 5 minutes in a machine that is located on the left from the door through which you go outside to the tracks. The machine accepts credit/debit card and all went smoothly. Also, seat reservation is not necessary as you would have to be very unlucky to get a train without any space.
One important thing to know about Brasov is that the train station is pretty far away from the historic center, which is where everything worth seeing is located. You could walk the 45 minutes or take a bus, which is what I did and what I recommend. The first thing you need to do is walk out of the Brasov station and you’ll see in front of you a little bus “station”. If you walk towards it, you will on a given moment see a machine from which people are probably purchasing their bus tickets. The good thing is that you don’t have to specify your destination: you just need to purchase a general bus ticket that is valid for all the buses of RATBV (the public transport company that provides the buses in Brasov). The machine gives you the option to purchase a single ticket (2,50 lei) or a two-way ticket (5 lei). I would choose the latter as you can use the bus on the following day as well. Once you got the ticket you need to wait for bus number 51.
RATBV Bus Ticket
I would definitely recommend downloading an app called Moovit, which you can use to see all the timetables of the buses and how to generally move around any city. It’s also useful to know when to get off the bus (when you’re close to your stop on the map).
When the bus arrives, get in and insert the ticket in the very visible machine. Notice that if you have purchased a two-way ticket, there´ll be a double sided arrow in the middle of the ticket. Insert the ticket one way and when taking the second bus the next day, insert it facing the other way.
I recommend stopping at a stop called Biserica Neagra (Black Church in Romanian), as it is perfectly in the center. The ride should take around 20 minutes.
Brasov by night
Once you arrive to the center, visiting time starts. Although maybe you want to check into your accommodation and lighten your baggage a little bit. (I’ll talk about accommodation later). There is plenty to visit in the center and I will just list everything worth seeing (that I’ve seen). The Black Church (visible on the first picture), Piata Sfatului and the city hall (also visible on the first picture), Rope Street, Black Tower, White Tower, and (if you have time) Crucea Musicoiului and surroundings to see a different view from Brasov and the beautiful outskirts of the city. After all, just walking around the streets of the center and discovering all that the city has to offer is electrifying and you could spend a lot of time with it.
By the time you’ve completed your visit to the center of Brasov, it’s probably dinner time. There are plenty of very good restaurants around the city center and you will probably want to try every single one of them as you walk past them. I went to a restaurant I’d heard great things about called La Ceaun on the Piata Sfatului and was lucky enough to get a table (it’s usually pretty full so try to go a little early if you choose to go here). The food was delicious and traditional Romanian, so I’d recommend it 100%.
Food at La Ceaun by Piata Sfatului
For lodging, I’d chosen a hotel this time, as I saw a really good one right next to the main square (Piata Sfatului) on Booking. It’s called Bella Muzica and I’d definitely stay here if you’re looking for a hotel which is medium priced (50€ for a single room with breakfast included). There are of course cheaper options in the center available in Booking (some hostels for example), so this is all up to you and your budget. What I would recommend though, is to get a place in the historic center, so that you can wander around as long as you want in the beautiful area without having to worry about having to get a bus or else at night.
Brasov from Tampa
Day two, as I said, starts with the must Tampa hike. The reason for my recommendation to do it in the morning is because you’d have the sun behind you and not in front of you (which would happen if you’d go in the afternoon), although that would lead to a pretty beautiful sunset for sure. In any case, I decided to hike in the morning to have the best light possible for pictures. What I did was to write “Tampa” in Google Maps and let it take me. Once you’re at the entrance of the trail it’s pretty easy to follow it (setting apart certain crossings, in which you´ll have to consult Maps). I’d recommend following the zigzagging way up (the trail that goes under the Tampa Cable Car), as it is easier to follow and closer to the city center. Also, once you get to the top following that path, you’ll find the Brasov sign just to your right. You should definitely go to the look out spot to the left of the Brasov sign, as there is obviously a great view and it’s pretty surreal to be next to the sign. However, that is not really the top of Tampa mountain, which you can find if you hike just a little more. You should be prepared to hike for 2 hours more or less (1 hour to go up and 1 hour to go down), plus the time you want to stay up in the mountain.
You can also always take the cable car, and that starts functioning at 9:30 AM. I can’t tell you much about that because I haven’t tried it but I’m guessing it is fairly easy to use. What I can tell you about it though is that the cost of making use of it is more or less 20 lei, for a ticket to go up and down.
I’d recommend going up as early as possible to, firstly, experience the astonishing colors of the sunrise on the city (the pictures were taken at 7 AM in August) and, secondly, get to Bran as soon as possible (as the line to see Bran Castle gets more and more intense the more hours you wait).
The next step, after breakfast (if you haven’t had it already before visiting Tampa mountain), would be to get to Bran. The bus that travels to Bran, leaves from Autogara 2, which is once again pretty far away from the city center. To get there (you can use Moovit again) I utilized the two-way ticket I bought the day before and took the bus number 5 from the stop located right next to the upper right corner of the Parcul Nicolae Titulescu, called Astra (Moovit will show you that option if you’re at the center). Starting from the Black Church you take 25 minutes to get there.
Once you arrive at Autogara 2, find the bus that goes to Bran either by asking around or by looking at the signs that can be seen in each of the lanes at which the buses stop. In my experience it’s the most populated bus, so it won’t be hard to find. To take a look at the timetable of the buses you can go to https://www.autogari.ro/. One thing to take into account about this web though is that it’s not always reliable. It gives you a good general sense of what buses go where and more or less at what time, but don’t expect it to be right all the time. What I can tell you for sure is that on the weekends there are buses hourly going to Bran from Brasov (mine left at o’clock so I guess all buses leave at o’clock), and what I think I can tell you is that on weekdays there are buses every half hour. You won’t need to purchase a ticket beforehand as you’ll have to do that on the bus. The price to get to Bran are 8 lei (make sure you have cash).
Market by Bran Castle
The ride to Bran should be more or less 45 minutes, and you will see clearly when you need to get off, as the Bran Castle is visible. Otherwise, you can always take a look at Google Maps and see if you’re in Bran or not. Once again, it’s the stop where the most people get off the bus, so it shouldn’t be difficult to identify. When you’re off the bus, take a good look where you are and memorize it, because to take the bus back to Brasov, you’ll have to wait next to the bus stop sign just across the street. The bus stop is only signaled with that blue bus stop sign and I couldn’t find it on the internet, so make sure you know where it is. In any case I leave here a screenshot of Maps with the bus stop signaled and the way to get to Bran castle from the bus stop.
Bus Stop to Bran Castle
The main attraction of Bran is obviously Bran Castle (fun fact about it: although located in Romania today, it’s actually an Hungarian castle, as an Hungarian king gave the Saxons of Brasov permission to build the castle in Hungarian territory to use it against the Ottoman empire), but if you’re planning on staying in Bran for a little while you can always visit the Medieval Museum of Bran, take a Day Tour trhough nature (you can find them on TripAdvisor) or go to Bran’s Horror House. I haven’t been myself to these attractions so I can’t tell you my personal opinion, but they certainly look really good (later I’ll tell you what I did though). To get to Bran Castle, as you can see in the map below, you need to cross the street and follow the curve of the street to the right until you reach a market where they sell all kinds of souvenirs. Getting into the market and walking through it, you’ll quickly see where the entrance to the castle is.
If you’re lucky and if you’ve arrived early (the entrance is open from 9 AM until 6 PM) you won’t encounter a big line, but by the time I got out of the castle (12 PM) there was a pretty big line. The entrance price is 45 lei and you can spend anywhere around 30 minutes to 2 hours inside more or less. I just stayed for 30 minutes as I wanted to try to complete the hike I’ll tell you later about. Inside the castle there is a guided walk so there’s no way of getting lost. The castle also has pretty gardens where you can chill for a while.
Bran Castle from inside
Bran Castle from hill of the beginning of the hike
Once you decide you’ve had enough of Bran Castle there are several options for you to choose. For this part of the trip you have to be very aware of when your Brasov-Csíkszereda train leaves and when you have to leave Bran to catch that train. Again, you can check all the buses on https://www.autogari.ro/. The bus that I picked out from the website to get back showed up without any problems. I’m hoping it does for you too. Make sure you arrive at Autogara 2 at least 30 minutes (not being really conservative) before the departure of your train. Once you arrive at Autogara 2, you can catch the bus number 15, which should take about 15 minutes. Another option, and the one I opted for, is taking an Uber (I was a little short on time) for 10 lei, more or less (pretty cheap in any case). This option is also a nice option to get around Brasov instead of buses. But, like I said, the buses function perfectly as well.
So, depending on the time you can stay at Bran, you can either have a bite to eat, walk around the city, or go on a hike. I opted the last option, as my bus was leaving way past lunch and I arrived at Bran Castle pretty early. The only hike I could find was the one going to the village of Magura. On the map you can see where to find the bridge near the start and the only important thing to have in mind when hiking, is to follow the sign that you can see at the beginning of the paragraph.
When you’ve arrived at the place that the map indicates, you have to cross the bridge and walk through the field to your left. When getting near to where the trees start growing you need to look for the sign on the trees: that’s where the trail starts. The beginning of the hike is a pretty steep climb, but don’t get discouraged as soon you’ll be rewarded by fantastic views. Take into account that to reach Magura you’ll need to have at least 6 hours if you’re going fast (I’d read that it takes 3-4 hours to get to Magura and you’ll need another 3-4 hours to get back). My idea was to arrive at Magura to have lunch but half way into the hike I decided against it because I was getting pretty tired and didn’t want to risk it. So I decided to go back to Bran, have lunch there and take the bus back to Brasov. But if you have time to complete the hike and have lunch at Magura, I’d definitely try to do it as it would be a unique experience close to the very recommended Piatra Craiului National Park and a closer look into the Romanian villages. For more information on the hike, visit https://hikingbeast.com/hiking-near-bran-castle/.
However, if you decide to have lunch at Bran, there are plenty of options. I chose a restaurant called Bulzu’ Branului as I saw a really good rating on Google Maps and I wanted to get traditional food. It’s a really pleasant place with a terrace, a little apart from all the noise and agitation of the main street. But there are obviously a lot of restaurants that surely are worth visiting, so take your pick.
Now it’s time to get back to Brasov. Make sure you get to the bus stop (the one I specified earlier) before time to be sure and the bus won’t take long to come by (in my experience). Once in Brasov, which is the last stop so you don’t have to be so alert to get off the bus, travel to the train station with your selected method of transportation. Walk inside the station and you’ll notice above your head the typical screen that displays all the departures and arrivals from the station. Find your train and identify the number of the platform from which your train is leaving (it’s under the word “Peron”). After you’ve located your platform, go inside the tunnel that leads to the tracks and pay attention to the signs located over your head, as they’ll show the number of each platform.
To get from Brasov to Csíkszereda I took an IR train and everything went equally well as with my outbound journey. I purchased the ticket online (for the train leaving Brasov at 7:07 PM and arriving at Csíkszereda at 8:38 PM). If you follow this option, they´ll send the ticket via email and there’s no need to print it (although they recommend it), as you can just show the ticket on your phone to the man who is asking for the tickets on the train. The only thing you have to take care about in these trains is to seat in the correct spot, otherwise they´ll make you move. If you don’t buy the ticket online, the process of purchasing the ticket must be very similar as in the Csíkszereda station, and I’m sure you won’t have a problem.
If you’ve followed all these steps, and if you’ve decided to take this trip, it means that you’ll now be in Csíkszereda after the train ride, hopefully feeling accomplished and full of excitement for future trips (although, let’s be honest, also a little tired and longing for the bed). If you’re reading this post and still deciding whether you’re going on this trip, I would describe this trip as a must if you’re staying in Csíkszereda: some say Brasov is the most beautiful city of the country, but I can definitely tell you that it’s the most beautiful city close to Csíkszereda. Also, Bran Castle might not be the most beautiful castle in the country, but it is steeped in history and it’s a great first experience of a castle in Romania. Overall, it is a first great first trip around the country as it is one of the easiest choices. And with this post, I hope it’ll be even easier and more enjoyable.
I lived and worked in Vienna, Austria for two years after graduating from college in the USA. I did a lot of traveling to eastern and western Europe at that time. One of my goals was to return and spend time again in an Eastern European country, doing some type of volunteer work. Romania has always interested me, and it looked like a good program with IVHQ. So I went ahead and committed to two weeks in December.
The experience has been excellent. Both IVHQ and the local staff are very well organized and positive. The local team offers a first week cultural tour, which includes language lessons and traveling to local sites.
I knew that this region of Romania speaks Hungarian, so it was very helpful to have some basic language lessons. The local team also provides accommodations and handles the behind the scenes paperwork needed by the government.
My job assignments were interesting and doable for my brief stay and limited local language skills. They included editing the new website for the program (in English!), interviewing some of the volunteers for the Facebook blog, and migrating the local program documents to a Google docs platform. I also attended English club events, attended by many local students and adults.
I highly recommend this program, and look forward to sharing it with others when I’m home again. It’s particularly good for younger people, to give them the opportunity to work and live abroad, and make connections with a variety of people!
I was a first-time volunteer and my short but wonderful experience in Romania has made me want to volunteer more — especially with IVHQ. I have always found the idea of volunteering in another country appealing. What stopped me most of the time was my work schedule, safety of the environment, and being comfortable while being in a foreign country. I accidentally found IVHQ’s website while browsing travel websites — the term “volunteer vacations abroad” caught my eye. I looked through the IVHQ website and was interested to see how many programs were available in a number of countries all over the world. I was immediately interested in the programs on agriculture, simply because it was something different from what I usually do. I am a physician by profession, but as I wanted to take a break from work, I did not want to be doing something “medical.” At the same time, I am a surgeon and I am used to and love doing things with my hands. So when I saw agriculture—seeding, weeding, cropping, compost-making, etc., there was no question that I wanted to be in that kind of program. Location was not important for me, apart from choosing a country where I would not need to apply for an extra visa. I was able to find several options in Asia, Europe and the Americas. With what fit the date and time I could be there I was left with two options—Naples and Romania. Between Naples and Romania, I chose Romania because 1.) I have never been there before, 2.) It is not a place a lot of people go to and THAT is ALWAYS interesting to me, and 3.) it was much cheaper than Naples.
Being a female solo traveler in a new place, I had anxiety of the unknown and concern about being safe in a foreign country was a big factor for me. So, I checked out the reviews, videos, and details of the program in Romania. I loved how everything was explained, from accommodations, to food, to the availability of tours and even WiFi. I knew the basic essentials that I was looking for were being met, and so I submitted the application. Upon doing the application, it surprised me how professional, organized and legitimate the whole IVHQ system was. The fact that they were asking for a criminal background check and travel insurance made me realize that I was applying to an organization that was highly concerned about doing things properly. Then there were short videos about “what to expect” and the “do’s and don’ts” while being in a foreign country. I remember thinking that these people value the safety of their volunteers and the importance of respect to other cultures. It was so nice having the personal application page on IVHQ because it guided me as to what was still required for my trip. Even without it, I found it very comforting to have immediate contact with a person from IVHQ— Meika (initially) and then Claire. Each one is so friendly and always open to answer all my questions and concerns. I was able to personally meet Meika during my week in Romania and I learned so much more about the goals and vision of IVHQ. I was also introduced to the local team, Care2Travel. Peter, the local head in Romania, sent me more details about the accommodations and my placement, as well as information regarding history, people, culture, and even common words and phrases that would be helpful during my stay. It gave me a picture of what to expect and this kept me at ease as the days to my volunteering approached. Like Meika and Claire, Peter (and later Orsi) were super nice and readily available for any concerns I had. To be honest, I usually expect answers to emails in about 2 or 3 days and was surprised that I received a response within the day or immediately the next morning.
So, the time had come, and I arrived in Romania. To my surprise and additional comfort, I was fetched with another volunteer who arrived at the same time I did. She was coming from the UK and like me was also a first-time volunteer. At that point, I knew I was not alone and it was nice having someone to be with at the very start. We arrived at our accommodations around 6:30 in the morning and it was then that we met up with Peter and he briefed us quickly on what would happen in the next few days and how things work within the accommodation. Although they did send pictures beforehand, the accommodation was not what I expected. I thought it would be cramped, with a general sad feeling to it, but it was not like that at all. It was such a cute, spacious, homey place with high ceilings and adequate lighting from the windows. The kitchen was complete with basic necessities like coffee, ingredients for cooking, food for sharing, snacks, etc. Storage for food and amenities (like extra towels, blankets, paper towels, laundry items) were available and if anything else was needed grocery shopping was done 2x a week. My anxiety about spending a lot just to eat out and having a problem with food supply all went away after seeing all that. Bedrooms consisted of bunk beds and separate single beds, housing about 4-8 people in one room. Bunk beds had curtains which was nice because one could have their own privacy when they wanted to. We were assigned a bed and in a decisive way—by age bracket, which I must agree was smart. My roommate and I were early risers and always the first to wake up in the morning. The room given to us was the last bedroom and closest to another door that goes out through the back. It was great to have that separate key because when we wanted to go to the kitchen, we would not need to go through each door of every room. The Sunday that I arrived was also a good time to get to know the other new volunteers as well as the others who were already staying there. I was able to get a feel of the accommodations and it was also an opportunity to go around and explore. Sunday in Miercuria Cuic was very quiet, and rarely did we see a shop that was open or even notice people walking around. Happily, we did find several bakeries, cafes, restaurants (of different kinds), banks, pharmacies, exchange areas, a cozy little park and a grocery all within walking distance to our place. The accommodation was very central to everything and that was a plus for me.
When Monday, the official orientation day came, we were met by Jackie, who started Care2Travel. At orientation, we were briefed on the whole organization, how it started, its goals, and how it has grown over the past few years. It also provided a chance to ask more questions about the induction pack that was initially emailed to us, including things about the ins and outs of the city, the Székely people, the history, special days, etc. The meet-up was very casual and I just knew it would be easy for me in the next few days. Orientation to the Hungarian language (which is spoken in this area of Romania), tour information and my placement in sustainable agriculture came the following day. Learning Hungarian from a British lady (that being Jackie) was such a treat. We learned the basics in the simplest of ways and it was a quick learning tool that I could use when speaking with locals. The tour info was bittersweet for me because in the short time of my stay, I would only have an afternoon for a short trip. I do love that these tours were being made available for the other volunteers—definitely part of the term “volunteer vacation” that initially caught my eye. Later came an introduction to my placement. My placement was within the accommodations but when Peter showed me the area where I would be working, I was surprised to see quite a huge yard out back, with a newly installed greenhouse and several plots with an irrigation system. It was then that I learned about the winter season not being the time for seeding and cropping. I felt a little bad that I couldn’t do the stuff I thought I could, but I also knew there was still plenty to do. Peter briefed me on the things that needed to be done, explained to me where all the tools were, and from there I was all set for the following days work. The week provided lots of challenges but fun too! I was the only volunteer for sustainable agriculture, which meant I was working alone the whole time in the backyard, with the timely supervision of Peter. I had no problems working by myself and it was nice to pretend that it was my own garden that I was tending to. One challenge I had was handling the tools. I am a small person and the tools were a little heavy to handle, but I found they were easier to carry the more I used them. The cultivator to help with the weeds was another piece that challenged me, but it surely became my friend after I figured it out. At one point, Peter and I worked on the greenhouse to patch things up with new wood. I’ve used a saw before but only to cut very thin wood, and nothing of a carpentry level, so this was another challenge for me. It was definitely the type of volunteering I signed up for—working with my hands. Plus, I learned so much including the simple ways of caring for a vegetable garden: how to hoe the soil to give roots some space to breathe, aligning everything up so planting seeds would be easier next year, and wasting nothing by using appropriate left-over food as compost. I also had the experience of picking something up directly from the soil and eating it fresh. I have never tasted a radish that way before in my life. Those three days felt like a month to me, since there would always be something to do.Placements are usually for 3-5 hours and the rest of the day is free. There were extra-curriculars you could attend. There was a quiz night, the English club (where a specific topic is discussed each week) as well as extra volunteering such as an environmental community clean-up. Those were a good use of time when work is done and a nice way to interact with locals. Also, when needed elsewhere, we could be asked to help around—like when we transferred and carried some wood for construction. That was such a nice moment for me with the other volunteers, because we had the opportunity of working together on something that wasn’t in our own volunteer placement. There was constant and open communication from Care2Travel about the activities and they make it a point that it wasn’t mandatory to go or attend. Apart from my placement, I had the chance to take the mini city tour as part of the orientation day, a short hike on top of a hill overseeing the whole city, and a major hike of about 1800m high to a place called Lonely Rock. The tour to Lonely Rock was a paid trip and it was surely the best way to end my week. It was such an accomplishment for me to be able to hike that high and it was so beautiful, especially with the sunset. Another event I was able to experience was the local market which celebrated the production of honey. There were dances, music, a mini-play, a parade around the city, and local food and products which were all hand-made. Those were perfect gifts I was able to buy for my family and friends—bringing them a little bit of Miercuria Cuic back home.
I only have high praises for my experience as a first-time volunteer in Romania. If anyone was ever interested in trying to volunteer the first time, you can be assured that the team and programs in Romania will be a good place to start. I certainly had the two things I wanted to do on my 1-week time off from work—-to contribute and give service where there is a need and traveling to a beautiful place I have never been to before. And not a day went by that I did not have fun while I was doing it. The Care2Travel team makes sure you are well-taken care of. I believe that while volunteering in a foreign country I was able to give service to others without compromising safety and well-being—volunteering without all the worries and having fun at the same time. My experience with IVHQ and Care2Travel in Romania gives me much reason to consider volunteering again in the future. Thank you, IVHQ and Care2Travel!
The experience that I am about to relate is one that I will cherish forever. It is one of the best things that ever happened to me. So, let’s get started…
It all began at my university, Hull, where I met Jackie, who is one of the founders of Care2Travel. Care2Travel is the name of the volunteering association which aims to support and promote responsible volunteering that will provide a real value within the community in Romania. It also provides tours and extra activities for the volunteers, in order to help them have a better understanding of the world and of the different cultures to which they are exposed to. The organization has all sorts of placement options for the volunteers. My choice was the Special Needs placement, as it is relates to my subject, which is psychology.
The night before I met Jackie, I had received an email from the university which let me know that an internship fair was taking place the next day. I started looking for all the options presented on that email and I came across the volunteering placement in Romania. I was beyond excited as Romania is my home country and I thought that this could be a fantastic opportunity for me. I remember seeing Jackie at the fair, as she was promoting Care2Travel, and going straight to her desk. It did not take long until I was convinced that I was going to apply for that internship. After I found out that I had been accepted, I could not stop thinking about it and was very impatient to start.
Time passed and soon I was on the train, off to Miercurea Ciuc, Harghita county, the city where the placement was located. I was very excited because I was about to spend two weeks with volunteers from all over the world, in my home country, talking just in English. It was pretty fascinating, as I have never been to that part of the country before, even though I have lived in Romania until I started university. From the moment I arrived, I knew that I would like it. Two local volunteers, who were very kind and friendly, waited for me at the train station and guided me to the accommodation. When I arrived at the accommodation, most of the other volunteers were already there, so I got to know the majority of them right from the beginning. They were from all over the world, including the U.S.A., Australia, the U.K, Singapore and Colombia.
Many of them were from Hull University, which was good to hear, as I knew that we would have the chance to meet back in Hull and to see each other quite often. All of them were amazing people with different stories and backgrounds from whom I got learn a lot of new things. They were all eager to contribute to the local community and to experience new ways of life in a different country. I must say it was quite interesting for me to live two weeks with them and to explore Romania on a totally different scale. We managed to break down all the cultural stereotypes and to fully embrace this mix of cultures. Once all the volunteers arrived, we had a proper introduction with Peter, the director of the organization. Throughout the whole internship, he provided us with constant support, information and a very good leadership. He and Jackie were role models for me and I feel privileged that I had the chance to work with them. They have put so much effort into this organization in order for it to work, and I think that they are pretty successful in accomplishing their goals.
So far, I have been writing about the volunteers and the association. In the next lines, I will describe my experience at the Special Needs placement, which was both challenging and rewarding at the same time. I remember when I first met the people I was supposed to help. I was so nervous because I did not have a clear idea on how to approach them. They were people with mental disabilities and each one of them was different and special in his or her own way. Even though many of them had the same disability, such as autism, each acted differently and every person was unique. The aims of the centre, and therefore my tasks, were to teach those in need how to live independently, to offer support, to boost self-confidence, and to help them with every day life skills, such as personal hygiene, preparing the table for meals, indoor and outdoor cleaning, and putting clothes on. Overall, I was expected to try to enhance their lives and to make a positive difference.
On my first day at the centre, I was placed to work in the third group (there are three in total). In a short period of time, I got to know all the group’s service users and I became very close to them. I was not the only volunteer there, as another girl was doing the same placement, so there were two of us working together in the same group. The group leader was a very nice lady who supported us during our time there. Some of the tasks that I had to perform included assisting individuals with activities, such as games or puzzles, for their cognitive development. Most of the time help was needed and I was more than willing to show them the right way. When individuals seeking help completed normal tasks, such as tying their shoe laces, they were very proud of themselves. It made me think that sometimes I take things for granted, and I forget that some people have to work a lot more than others in order to achieve the same things. All in all, the experience at the centre made me realize that I should appreciate the things in my life more and to be more grateful for what I have, because others have tougher lives and they still manage to smile and to be thankful for any achievement, big or small.
I will treasure these memories I’ve had forever and every service user will remain in my heart.
I have also included photos from our trips which took place during our days off. The other volunteers and I explored the picturesque surroundings of Harghita together and I loved every bit of it. As I previously mentioned, even though I am Romanian, I felt like a tourist and I was impressed by those breathtaking surroundings, because until then I had only heard about them. Now, I got the chance to visit these places with people from every corner of the world.
I will forever be thankful to Care2Travel for giving me this chance. This organization deserves all the respect it receives. I feel like I made a positive difference for both the community and myself, and I am very grateful for all the people that I have met and for all the memories that we made together. It was a fantastic and rewarding experience and I will advise anyone to take this opportunity.
When I first read about Care2Travel´s orientation week, I was intrigued. As someone who enjoys traveling it seemed like a great opportunity to be a tourist and see some sites. Even though I was interested, I hesitated to sign-up. Would it be worth the money? Was it better to just devote all the time I had while in Romania to my volunteer experience? In the end, I decided to go for it and it is a decision I am so happy that I made. The orientation week is a wonderful opportunity for learning and immersion. Below describes my top reasons to join the orientation week.
You learn about the city you will be staying in
As you know, you are traveling to Romania to the city of Miercurea Ciuc. But, as you will come to learn, Miercurea Ciuc is in Harghita County which has a large Hungarian population. So, you are actually staying in Csíkszereda (the Hungarian name for the city) and you will be speaking Hungarian when talking to locals. During my orientation week I visited Mikó Castle which houses the Szekler Museum of Csíkszereda (Csíkí Székely Múzeum).
The museum has an array of exhibits such as those devoted to early trades and family life, artwork including painting and sculpture, and an ecology exhibit documenting the various flora, fauna, and land types of the area. Of particular interest are exhibits recounting the history of Csíkszereda, the development of the city and social classes, and how the city eventually came to be the capital Harghita county. Did you know that Csíkszereda bares its name from the weekly Wednesday market that used to be held here? (¨Szereda¨ in Hungarian and ¨Miercurea¨ in Romanian mean Wednesday). You will also learn about the city ́s experience under Communism and as land deemed to both Romania and Hungary. These historical occurrences continue to resonate and shape the city to this day.
Csíkszereda is in a beautiful geographic region
Csíkszereda is in eastern Transylvania where the Carpathian mountain range loops around the county. The mountains are visible as you walk through town and just a turn in the road or a peek through a window can produce a stunning view.
During my orientation week I traveled outside Csíkszereda to the Parajd (Praid) Salt Mines, the village of Korund (Corund) to view local pottery and observe how it was made, and to the Bicaz Gorge and Red Lake (Lacu Rosu in Romanian or Gyilkostó in Hungarian), where the mountain range is on full display during your journey.
You will also experience the countryside, passing through various villages. Some villages only appear as a small cluster on the highway, while other times you will pass through to see the town square, shops, and churches. It would not be completely unheard of to run into a group of sheep or cows crossing the road or to see people being transported via horse and carriage. Farming is still a popular trade in this area, as is logging. I was even brought passed a road where charcoal was made by burning soiled covered wood. During my orientation week, I hiked Csíksomlyó which is about 2km outside the city. Csíksomlyó is the site of a great Catholic pilgrimage each year. It is interesting to walk the same path and imagine what those who are making the pilgrimage may be thinking or feeling. It is also here that countryside, village, and mountains can be seen all from one spot.
You get to know various locals
László serves as Care2Travel´s tour guide and he accompanied me around for two days. László is a wonderful guide! He is able to share much information about the stops along the tour, but also about local culture and history as well. Barni was the language teacher for my intensive Hungarian language lesson. He presented the material based on what I thought was most beneficial for me to learn – such as basic phrases, the names of food, and the days of the week. He was very patient with my lack of knowledge of the Hungarian language! During our orientation day tour, three high schoolers from the city served as local guides and indicated points of interest in the town as well as suggestions for places to get a good dinner, go food shopping, or the best places to hang out. In addition to our Csíkszereda tour, two of these guides accompanied me on the hike to Csíksomlyó. Not only did all these guides do an excellent job in teaching me about the city and the area I was visiting, but each person had a different opinion on certain points of interest, tourism, or cultural relations. Over the course of the week, I came to know these people as individuals. That in and of itself was a great way to feel more connected to the place I would call home for the next seven weeks!
It is a chance to see the unexpected
When I decided to complete the orientation week, I expected to see the local area and learn more about its history and culture. Yet, I was still presented with unexpected things along the way. For example, nestled high up on a hill in the mountains, is a statue of Jesus. You can see it from various vantage points along the way. Fortunately, I was brought up the hill for an up-close view.
If you go climb all the way up, you get an amazing 360 degree view of the landscape below. For those who may not like heights, the view from the base of the statue is beautiful as well!
When I visited the Parajd (Praid) Salt Mines, I was surprised to learn the mine also housed an amusement park, concession stands, and a church. A few of the walls even had art on display.
In many ways, it is these little surprises that stuck with me most, more than all of the informational details I gathered over the course of the week.
It can help you with your placement
Regardless of which Care2Travel program you are participating in, having an understanding of history, geography, and the local area and its people can help you to better understand the importance of these programs as well as the people who participate or seek assistance from them. While the other volunteers went to work, I went on my orientation excursions. When we gathered at the end of the day, I would listen to what was happening in each of their placements and I shared with them what I saw or learned on my tour that day. Many times, what I saw or did could help inform or better understand what was happening at the placements. As a result, I came away with a richer understanding of the place I had come to volunteer. I think this will not only make me a better volunteer, but when I leave I will do so having come away with a better understanding, appreciation, and excitement not only for Care2Travel and its work, but for Csíkszereda and the surrounding area as well!
Transzlvania is a beautiful region, located in the centre of Romania. Care2Travel, situated in Miercurea Ciuc, is surrounded by forest, agriculture, mountains, and impresive architecture. Although the region is rich in resources, poverty is still present. This can be detrimental for the local children who are not offered the opportunities to succeed.
Care2Travel, for the past two weeks, has been busy managing the Residential Summer Camp. In the first week, the children were between 7 and 13 years old, with a total of 25 children. As mentioned before, the children live in low socio-economic circumstances and some are then placed in foster families by Child Social Services. A couple of days before the camp started, the children, local volunteers, international volunteers, and staff moved in. There was a lot of prepping since food, bed frames, and other supplies had to be brought to the camp.
The camp is run from Tuesday to Saturday and to begin, a daily debrief is held in order to ensure that everyone is on the same page. During the week, the children take part in different activities including dodgeball, bingo, arts & crafts, tag, and many more entertaining games. This is a great way for the children to interact with the international volunteers, and practice their English. In order to get a sense of how the summer camp was, I decided to interview Ishti, Emily, and Gyopi.
Ishti is one of the kids who attended the Summer Camp. He is eleven years old and has been participating in the summer camps for the past five years. He really enjoys the interactive games with the international volunteers because he can practice his English. His favourite game is limbo because he always wins! If it weren’t for the summer camps, he would be at home helping his parents or he would go fishing. Therefore, he really appreciates the opportunity he has attending the summer camp. In regards to learning English, he loves learning it at school and sometimes, he even prefers writing things in English rather than in Hungarian!
Emily is an international volunteer who was at the summer camp for the first week. She enjoyed exploring Transylvania and getting to know the culture. She enjoyed being with the kids and bringing a small amount of joy into their lives. However, she did face some challenges. Having thought that the summer camp would be a day camp, she had to be flexible and adapt to living with the local volunteers and the children. Her relationship with the local volunteers improved as they were the mediators between the international volunteers and the children. Although she enjoyed her time, she would like to try out another placement as she was limited to childcare this time round.
Gyopi is a local volunteer who just finished 11th grade. It is her third summer taking part in the summer camps and she will be doing much more during her gap year. She spent a summer in the U.S. where her English improved immensely. She is now a lot more confident and enjoys interacting with the international volunteers. However, it is sometimes difficult to control the children whilst also being the translator. Interestingly, she finds herself thinking in English as most of the pop culture (social media) nowadays is in English. She will continue to participate in the summer camps as she thinks it is a productive way of spending her summers.
In the second week, the children were between the ages of 11 and 15. Similar activities took place, however, some activities such as bowling and paintball took place since the kids are older. I decided to interview a local kid named Heidi in order to gain a different perspective on the camp.
Heidi is 15 years old and has been coming to the summer camps for the past 5 years. She enjoys meeting international and local volunteers. Although she finds it difficult to understand and speak in English, she tries her best to communicate with the international volunteers. She finds it useful that there are local volunteers who speak good English and can help her translate. Also, she has been learning English for the past 4 years. However, it is still a struggle to gain the confidence to speak.
Overall, it was a pleasure interviewing everyone! This camp would not have functioned without the incredible team work of the Care2Travel team, local volunteers, and our international volunteers who have worked hard all summer to set up camps just like this. Thank you to all who have helped out in any way to make such a difference for these children!
The volunteer accommodation has been buzzing with activity these last few weeks. While some of this can be attributed to the summer rush of new volunteers, another event has been going on. A reunion of previous Care2Travel volunteers was put together by staff and previous volunteers to give an opportunity for former volunteers to return to Romania. The idea for this reunion was originally that of a longtime volunteer, Linda Bahr, and was planned with a fellow volunteer, Elizabeth. After much planning, a group of five volunteers returned for two weeks of excursions and volunteering.
The reunion volunteers have enjoyed a variety of activities over the past two weeks, including hiking a mountain, visiting a brewery for a tasting, and even enjoying a visit from the Pope! While these and many other activities have been great fun, the real reason volunteers returned was to work on a new project. Near the accommodation, there is a garden that has been previously underutilized. Linda, a former agriculture volunteer, realized the potential of the space and had the idea of building a community garden. These volunteers worked tirelessly, through pouring rain and hot sun, to create a vegetable and fruit garden that could service international volunteers and locals alike. The garden will provide fresh produce for volunteers and for local families in need. There would also be plots available for a small fee for locals so they can grow their own produce. Every day these volunteers put in hours of work, doing everything from pulling weeds to digging trenches, to make this idea a reality.
The project has been moving steadily along, and these reunion volunteers have laid substantial groundwork for future volunteers to build upon. Each day has been filled with hard work, but there have also been nights out at the local bar, nights in playing board games, and hours of laughter. While the garden project and a sense of altruism were the main reason for these volunteers’ returns, it is not hard to imagine why this program is something worthy of a reunion.
In 2017 I, Sophie Smith, decided I would do something adventurous and signed up to volunteer in Romania providing NGO support. As part of my volunteering experience I chose to participate in the orientation week offered by Care2Travel and I was not disappointed. I got to see some of the beautiful sights Harghita county has to offer and meet some truly great people. I would definitely recommend partaking in the orientation week if you are interested in learning about the history, culture, and language of Harghita county. If you are unsure of what to expect during the orientation week or are wondering what’s included then hopefully some information about my experience will answer some of your questions.
Day 1- Monday: Language Lesson
An intensive language lesson is included in the orientation week and my first lesson was on Monday. These lessons are so much fun and Hungarian is a really interesting albeit challenging language to learn. At first I was really confused as to why I was learning Hungarian in Romania but once the history was explained it all made sense. Plus it’s pretty cool being in such a bilingual area and it’s really interesting how most of the signs are in both Romanian and Hungarian. Barni, the language teacher, was really nice and extremely patient (also if you ask very nicely he can teach you some funny phrases and tongue twisters). The language lessons are a great way to settle yourself into the area and makes communicating with locals a lot less stressful.
Day 2- Tuesday: The Red Lake and Bicaz Canyon
Tuesday was when the real fun began. I was picked up at the accommodation at 9:00am by my tour guide László. I was very lucky to have László as my tour guide as he was really lovely and very informative. He could answer just about any question that I had (and trust me I had quite a few). Our first stop for the day was the beautiful old fortified church in Csikkarcfalva.
The church was built in the 15th Century but was completely renovated in 2012. It was so beautiful and offered an amazing view of the village. I was also fortunate enough to meet with the priest, who was so lovely and very friendly. He was very interested in hearing about Australia and why I chose to come to Romania. The village itself was also really interesting as I saw so many traditional horse and carts, which are still commonly used today by farmers throughout Romania.
After saying goodbye to the priest we made our way to the Red Lake. The Red Lake was so interesting as it was created after a huge landslide and you can still see the stumps of old trees that were swept away in the flood.
There was not much for me to do there as it was winter and the lake wasn’t quite frozen enough for ice-skating but during the summer there is plenty to do, including boat rides and hiking. There is a hike through the mountains of the Bicaz Canyon included in the summer orientation week for those who are able. For me it was to snowy to go hiking but the drive down the canyon was still absolutely incredible. On the way down we passed through, what the locals call, Hell’s gate then Hell’s porch, and then finally Hell’s throat. The mountains were so impressive and absolutely massive.
After our drive through the mountains we stopped and had a traditional Hungarian lunch at a beautiful old bed and breakfast. We had a delicious vegetable soup followed by Székely káposzta (Sekler cabbage).
On the journey home we stopped off in the small village of Szárhegy to see the Franciscan monastery and old castle there. Once a year there is an art festival held at the monastery and artists from all over the world come and create together. Often the artworks, particularly the sculptures, are donated to the village and you can see them at the monastery and in the village park. In summer there is no time to see the Szárhegy because of the hike in the mountains but if you have enough free time I would definitely recommend at least a drive through.
Day 3- Wednesday: Praid Salt Mines
Once again I met my tour guide László at the volunteer accommodation at 9:00am but instead of stopping off at an old church before heading to the main attraction we went and saw the natural mineral water springs in Homorod. Homorod was a beautiful little ski town built around the natural springs. I was lucky enough to try some of the water and it tasted… interesting. It is definitely an acquired taste but it is very good for you and is full of iron.
After a short stop at the springs we made our way to the Praid (Parajd in Hungarian) Salt Mines. The mines are hundreds of years old and are still operational today. In order to get there you have to catch a bus that takes you through a tunnel to the main entrance. Once you get through the gate, there is a 200 stair descent into a giant salt cave.
I have to say I was very surprised once I got to the salt mines as there are cafes, playgrounds, chemists, and even a church. There was also a small museum that provided some information on the history of the mines, which was really interesting. My favourite part however was the old mine shaft. It was really impressive and it’s hard to believe that hundreds of years ago people used to work down there. It was absolutely incredible.
After the salt mine we visited the town of Szovata to see the salt block and the Medvetó (Bear Lake). The Bear Lake is Europe’s largest heliothermal lake and gets its name from looking like an outstretched bear skin. In the summer it is a very popular swimming destination and is home to some interesting wildlife, the most famous of which is the stork. The salt block was also very interesting and had many intriguing patterns.
On our way home we stopped in the small village of Korund where we met with some potters who were kind enough to show me their workshop. It was fascinating seeing how all the ceramic products were made and the family was so lovely and talkative. They also had a cute little puppy who sat with them in the workshop. Their shop was closed when we visited as it was winter and there were not a lot of tourists however if you are interested you can buy their handmade vases and plates. They are absolutely beautiful and make fantastic presents to take home for family and friends.
Day 4- Thursday: Sighisoara (Segesvár)
Thursday was my last day meeting with László at 9:00am. Our first stop was the village Máréfalva to see all the old Székely gates. Nearly every house in this little village has a Székely gate and there is a council program that encourages and helps people to maintain their gates. They are intricately decorated and are quite spectacular to see.
After Máréfalva we went to an old Saxon city, Sighisoara. Despite being a major German speaking community a few hundred years ago, today there are very few Saxons still living in the city. It is, however, a very popular city for German tourists and it is quite common to see many signs in German. Our first tourist attraction was the old clock tower and museum.
The museum is very interesting with a collection of old building tools and information about guilds that were introduced by the Saxon communities in Romania. The view from the clock tower was incredible. You could see the entire city from there and there were even signs pointing to other famous cities that would tell you approximately how far away the city was. I was particularly excited when I found Sydney.
Following the museum and clock tower we climbed an old covered staircase, which lead to a small high school and a church with a Saxon cemetery. I couldn’t imagine having to climb those stairs everyday to get to school. It would definitely keep you super fit.
After a quick look around the high school and the church we slowly made our way through the old city. There were many interesting buildings and statues, I even found a statue of Vlad the Impaler. There are also many different towers, each representing a specific guild.
There was a schneiderturm (tailor’s tower) and even a tower for the black smiths. All of the buildings were painted in bright colours and there was a great view of the city from the old fortification wall.
After a satisfying lunch in a gorgeous little restaurant we made our way home. On our way we made a quick stop at an old Saxon church in Saschiz. During the summer orientation week, volunteers are usually taken to see the Jesus statue but it requires a small hike and the weather was a little to cold and snowy for us to make it. So we went to see the church instead. It was a very beautiful church but when we got there it was closed for restoration work. Despite the bit of bad luck at the end of the day, overall my day in Sighisoara was so much fun. I will definitely endeavour to come back and visit during summer.
Day 5- Friday: Language Lesson
On the final day of my orientation week I had one last language lesson with Barni. It was nice to learn more Hungarian after being able to practice what I had learnt during my travels through Harghita county. Barni was once again super patient with me and was even kind enough to teach me a little bit of Romanian. The lessons were a great way to finish off a busy week and once again made communicating with locals less daunting than it already was.
I would definitely recommend participating in the orientation week if you are thinking of doing so. It is a great way to get a feel for the county before you start your volunteer work and you will have so many great experiences to write home about. If I had the chance to do it all over again I would do so in a heart beat.