I never thought I would go to Romania, but a dear friend of mine lives there now...so across the ocean I went. Once I got there, I discovered that Romania is a beautiful country.
There are beautiful medieval cities, like Sibiu, where my friend lives—an enchanting city of winding streets and mysterious passageways that would be filled with tourists if found anywhere else in Europe.
There are beautiful mountains, like those near Sinaia, that make you afraid to close your eyes as you pass them on the train—because you don't want to miss a single view.
There are beautiful people, like the family we dined with while visiting a small village, that take so much pride in the food they cook.
And there are beautiful traditions, like making delicious homemade wines and working the land with horse and plow, that show a true connection to the Earth.
But as I explored the country by train and bus, I also found that there is another side of Romania.
In some parts of the country, it seemed to be everywhere—on the streets, in the rivers, and in the farm fields—littered there by people who didn't care or, perhaps, by those who don't have garbage pick-up, something I often take for granted.
Much of that garbage was plastic. Bags flying in the wind. Wrappers floating in water. Bottles left carelessly behind. It was painful to see.
Yet ironically, while I was in Romania, I used a fair amount of plastic.
I couldn't drink the water in some places, so I bought bottled water for the first time in over two (or is it three?) years.
When I got trapped in Bucharest for an extra four days (thank Eyjafjallajökull), I bought things packaged in plastic at the grocery store, partly because I didn't know how to be plastic-free in a different country and partly because I really wanted to continue exploring the food in this new land.
And I also bought a few presents made of plastic. I got my friend a silverware organizer as a thank you present since she hadn't had the time to go out and buy one yet. And I splurged on a new watch for myself, which may have a faux leather band. But it might be real leather. I'm not sure.
What I am sure about is that I feel especially guilty about purchasing things made of plastic in a country riddled with a trash disposal problem.
What I'm also sure about is that I want to renew my commitment to a (mostly) plastic-free lifestyle.
So "thank you", Romania, for helping me remember, through both you beauty and your problems, that the world is an amazing place...and that I want to do everything I can to protect it.
Bucegi mountains photo courtesy of ricsen
Horse and plow photo courtesy of wikicommons