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Seven days in Romania

ROMANIA | Saturday, 13 June 2009 | Views [2133] | Comments [4]

Adorable little girl in typical dress, Maramures, Romania.

Adorable little girl in typical dress, Maramures, Romania.

We saw Philip off to the airport shuttle at 5:30 Saturday morning from the hotel in Budapest, then went back to bed for an hour (after weeping….).  After a short walk to visit St. Stephen’s church in downtown Budapest, we recovered our car from the elevator garage and drove east to the Romanian border.  The drive was fairly uneventful, except for the hookers lurking around all the trucker parking places on the side of the road (Bernie insisted on sitting in the front to get the best “views” so I was unable to get a photo).  We bravely stopped for coffee at a hole-in-the-wall roadside café, ordered “safe” cappuccinos, waved the flies away from us, and quickly got back on the road.  Crossing the border into Romania took a few minutes, since the guards at the border saw that (1) we were Americans, (2) were coming from Hungary without a stamp on our passports entering Hungary, and (3) were driving a car with French registration.  We headed straight for the hotel in Oradea, ate a horrible meal at a tourist restaurant recommended by the hotel, then met our guide Daniel Gheorghitsa (aka, the fanged one…pictures will soon be posted) that evening. 

Next morning, we headed north through some foothills, and entered the northern Transylvania county of Maremures.  This is a pretty remote rural area, with a well-preserved peasant agrarian culture that certainly predates all of the hardships of the 20th Century (the peasants make up the bulk of the population.  Most are seen bent over in the fields working.  They still drive carts with one or two horses pulling them along the main roads)  Wooden buildings were everywhere, with exotic carvings decorating everything, from wooden gates, house decorations, and even intricately carved and painted tombstones.  We visited two 18th Century wooden churches, one of which has a steeple 225 feet tall, and the other which has beautiful hand painted frescoes on all the interior walls.  We stayed at a pension, which was actually just an expanded farmhouse—homecooked meals, dairy products from their own cows (we have all gained about 10 pounds to date), and a gorgeous view of the wooded hills from the back yard.  Next day we visited Elie Wiesel’s birthplace (yawn….), saw a pretty sobering communist jail turned into a museum, then stopped in at a local folk dance festival attended by locals and three tourists.  Back at the pension that evening, we were surprised by a busload of Dutch tourists eating dinner in the back yard, and watching the teenage son and daughter of the pensions owners in folk costumes dancing for the group.  Then, surprise!  The Romanian guide for the Dutch group approached us, had obviously been drinking very heavily, and demanded that we pay for watching the kids dance, since he had paid the owners for the show.  He actually got pretty nasty, and had to be pulled back by some of the Dutch people.  Anyway, the Dutch group finally left, and we sat down to our own dinner, during which each member of the family came to us one at a time, apologizing profusely and expressing extreme mortification.  We told them all was well, and took some satisfaction that the Romanian guide for the Dutch group was going to have a whopper of a hangover in the morning (and apparently had lost 300 Euros that he was carrying to pay for the tour group fees).

Next day, we drove most of the day with a couple of sightseeing stops (Vinnie driving and this time Bernie was more than happy to share the front seat duties…no prostitutes in sight), still surrounded by amazing wooden carved gates, buildings, and statues.  We arrive in Sighisoara and stayed in the medieval citadel above the city (way cool place!), which had remained essentially unchanged since the 1400’s.  This is reputed to be the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, aka Vlad the Impaler, aka Count Dracula.  Daniel our guide was very good at distinguishing Bram Stoker’s creation from the true history of Vlad Tepes, who was actually a Romanian ruler from the 15th Century.  Like many of his day, heavy-handed policies were required to keep his seat, and his favorite method (impaling prisoners and foes on wooded spikes) was actually learned from the Ottoman Turks, from whom he spent most of his life Romania.

Wednesday, we visited a couple of Saxon fortified churches, had dessert and coffee a couple of times, and landed in Sibiu, a center of German immigration in the 12th and 13th Centuries.  They were brought in by the Hungarians to defend the eastern border of the empire against the perpetual onslaught of barbarians from the east, including Ghengis Kahn.  The next morning, we drove up a winding road into the Carpathian Mountains, and at lunch at the summit of Fagaras Pass.  Gorgeous vistas, lots of snow.

Today, we drove west, completing most of our loop back toward the Hungarian border.  We saw the most amazingly garish Gypsy houses (Daniel’s description did not do them justice, see the photos), and finally saw an actual 15th Century fairy tale castle—steep conical turrets, crenellated battlements, arches, and a high bridge to the entrance.  Tonight, we are staying in a mountain pension in the spruce and pine woods of the western Carpathian Mountains—brisk air, dense forests everywhere, farmsteads dotting the countryside, and a mountain stream rushing past.  Tomorrow, we will visit some limestone caves, hike a bit in the woods, then finish in Oradea where we started.

Overall, Romania has been a great visit.  The country is certainly recovering from the Ceaucescu years, and has a way to go.  Highlights have been learning the real Vlad the Impaler story, seeing some amazing woodwork, (eating and drinking) bravely walking across a wooden bridge into Ukraine, and listening to Anita badger Daniel for Gypsy sightings.  (She actually got to barter for a hammered copper pot from a Gypsy on the roadside, probably the thrill of her entire visit.)

*Written by Vinnie, comments in parenthesis added by Anita, “inspiration” (Bernie made me add this) contributed by Bernie.

 

Comments

1

Did you see any solid metal Gypsy houses?

  Mel Jun 13, 2009 9:56 AM

2

Yes, they were absolutely amazing! I took lots of pictures of them as we drove by in the car...some are even pretty good! We will post them soon.

  anijensen Jun 13, 2009 2:22 PM

3

1)Just because Anita's maiden name is Woods, doesn't mean you have to go overboard. The word "wood" or "woods" is used 10 times in this piece.
2) Are you going to get Bernie's needs taken care of somehow before he makes a really bad choice somewhere along the way? Or is he just going to voyeur his way across Europe?
3) I am surprised at how often you get "bad" food. One would think that many of these places would be an epicurean delight. Sad. A tourist's dilemna, I'm sure.
4) Great idea to get a guide.
5) Eager to see pix of all the wood!

  Stephen the Inhaler Jun 14, 2009 4:34 AM

4

Encounter with surly guide is too funny! Was this in English? And who's got the 300 euros?? And a pin in the map for Ukraine... good job. Carpathians sound very scenic. Not much mention of food... are we looking forward to Italy, perhaps?! Looking forward to pix...

  Philip Jun 14, 2009 5:18 AM

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