Saturday, February 24, 2007

A world away

By ALICIA CARMICHAEL, The Daily News, acarmichael@bgdailynews.com
Friday, February 23, 2007

When Heather and Bogdan Ratiu decided to follow their dream of motorcycling across his homeland of Romania last year, they had a lot of preparing to do.

Heather, 31, quit her job in development at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond.

Bogdan, a 32-year-old consultant for a Christian organization that helps Romanian orphans, made arrangements for the couple to volunteer on their trip with the organization one week a month.

The Ratius also eliminated debt.

They sold most of their possessions and stored the rest in a friend's home in Bowling Green, where Bogdan had gone to graduate school.

The couple left April 16.

On the Suzuki motorcycle they'd shipped to Europe, the Ratius toured Romania through October, falling in love with the centuries-old wood churches, historic monasteries, Roman ruins and geographical beauties.

The country was a diamond in the rough, according to Heather.

And each inspiring sight she and Bogdan saw was documented on a Web site they set up at www.motoromania.com.

“I thought, ‘if we're going to do this, we should try to promote Romania as a tourist site for motorcycle enthusiasts,' ” Bogdan said.

Now the blog of the trip on the Web site “shares the heart” of Romania and its people, Heather said.

But it's also chock full of photos of the country, which Heather said many unfortunately only associate with Dracula, communism and other “dismal” things.

That's something the Ratius hope to change through their Web site and a book they're writing about Romania's attractions.

They want, Bogdan said, “to give Romania a voice.”

“I know, from doing research, there's very little about Romania that translates the country's beauty for an American audience,” he said. “For an average American tourist, Romania doesn't pop up on the map.”

Heather said she thinks Romania's rural settings are particularly beautiful.

In “the countryside, I could see the green fields, I could smell the agricultural freshness,” she said.

Bogdan said he wants people to know that in his native country, a mix of terrain that makes the country interesting, including the Danube River and he Carpathian Mountains, he said.

But what he also rediscovered on the trip to his homeland “was the beauty of the people - that people are open and very hospitable,” he said. “Even if they don't understand what you're saying” they'll point you where you want to go.

Heather compared it to southern hospitality.

She and Bogdan say they enjoyed having the chance to work face-to-face with other volunteers at Caminul Felix, the organization that helps orphaned children by setting them up with guardians who raise them in a home-like environment.

Heather said she most enjoyed being able “to see life” in the children's eyes, “to see the excitement about their future.”

Bogdan likes knowing “the organization tries to give as much a sense of community to these kids as possible.”

With Caminul Felix in Romania, Heather helped with marketing, capitol campaigns and publications, while Bogdan worked for Action Felix, which raises money for Caminul Felix through a dairy farm, greenhouse, livestock operation and more.

Now the Ratius plan to continue supporting Caminul Felix and the organization's goal to expand to Thailand and Africa, in addition to promoting tourism in Romania, which became a member of the European Union in January.

While leaving their lives in this country behind to do such work meant they had to make many big changes, the Ratius say they're glad they made sacrifices to follow their dream.

“I have finally lived the experience of being passionate about something and actually following it,” Bogdan said.

He said he thinks most people don't follow their dreams because they're afraid, and he admits he felt the same at first.

But once he and Heather finalized a plan for their journey and realized they could follow it responsibly, they felt only excitement about their trip.

Now, they'd encourage others to do the same.

Though he is still a consultant for Caminul Felix, both Bogdan and Heather are now looking for full-time work in Bowling Green. That's because in addition to Heather's quitting her job to go on the trip, both she and Bogdan turned down other job offers so they could go to Romania, she said.

It's something neither would have done 10 years ago.

But it's not something either regrets at all.

In addition to helping promote Romania and Caminul Felix, the trip helped Heather learn to slow down and live in the moment, she said.

It helped Bogdan recognize the importance of each opportunity, he added.

Now, he and Heather plan to travel to Romania every year, taking friends to share its beauty.

“We'd like to take someone else along for the journey,” Bogdan said.

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