However, let me inject here that in order to count a country on my list of countries visited, there are certain conditions that need to be fulfilled. For example, an airport stopover doesn’t count unless I actually leave the airport.
My mother and I have an ongoing country-visiting competition between us. She is ahead, but of course, she also has 30 years on me. But a few years ago she was visiting me in Romania and we spent a day in Oradea with my colleagues. When one of my colleagues mentioned that we were only miles away from the Hungary border, my mom got all giddy about the possibility of adding another country to her list. My colleague was all too happy to drive to the border, get our passports stamped, and continue on for about five minutes on a narrow road in Hungary and then turn around.
For me, that’s pushing the rules a bit. It doesn’t really count. At least one purchase needs to be made, and at least some contact with the locals.
But perhaps I’m hypocritical in this assessment because I felt the same giddiness when staying with a friend in Romania very close to the Serbian border. “Can we go to Serbia?” I asked. “Why?” My friend replied. “There’s nothing to see there.” “Just because,” I replied. “I want to see anyway!”
Thankfully, she was up for a quick adventure. We decided to try to squeeze in a visit before I needed to catch a train back to Cluj. So we set out and thankfully, we got through the border with little drama. We spent about a half-hour there before turning around. But, to make the visit authentic, we did two important things: we took a picture at the border and we made a purchase. It was hot at the time, so we bought and ate ice cream. It wasn’t great ice cream, certainly not something to go back for, but I guess you could say we tasted something of the local cuisine.
The most memorable part of the visit, however, was when we got back to the border. On the Serbian side, there was a long wait to get through customs and back into Romania. I have no idea why. But we had a great conversation while waiting, discussing our futures and faith and big decisions. In the end, we waited for about two hours, and, consequently, I missed my train back to Cluj. Oh well, it was worth it!