Published: August 4th 2009June 9th 2009
Maramures Day 3-4 (June 9-10)
A bus journey to Debrecen was next where we had a few hours to spend before catching the train. This was a surprisingly large town on the Hungarian border. It was a very hot day, and we were happy to sit at a café for a long lunch, only making a brief foray into the nearby square. Catching the train from Debrecen and finally crossing out of the Schengen area into Romania. The border crossing was fairly painless and I made sure they had stamped my passport to show I had left Schengen (very important for the rest of my travels). The countryside quickly differed from the Hungarian open planes, becoming much more hilly and treed (is this a word?).
We were met at the station by a private van, taking us to our village homestay about an hour away. We passed through an area where the houses seemed to be getting increasingly large and elaborate. It was explained to us that many people in this area had left the country for work outside Romania (in the EU and also USA). They were sending money home, and it was a matter of pride as
to who was earning the most money which was displayed visibly in terms of house size.
The practice of building a house piece by piece when you have the money was common here as in the less moneyed areas. Whether a large or small house people still tended to build their own, and the works would proceed over many years depending on the sourcing of money. To even afford a house is difficult in Romania still for so many. There are still large Soviet style apartment blocks that house many.
We stopped in a mountain area to fill our bottles from a pipe bringing fresh water down the mountain. Really good water! As we drove through the smaller villages, there were many bench seats out the front of the houses, where people would sit and watch the world go by, gossip with neighbours and generally be out of the house at the end of the days work. Farming is still very manual, and horse and carts shared the roads with the cars.
Our family stay was a marvellous surprise, very newly built with beautiful rooms looking out over the fruit trees to the hills behind. Our basix
Merry Cemetry 1
Farmer being struck by lightening. The white doves show he was a good man.
Woman who spent her life tending the farm...here raking hay.
trip was certainly starting out well above expectations. Our hosts were a young family in their early 30’s with two children. A home cooked meal was prepared for us. Entrée was a selection of home made sheep cheeses and tomatoes to be eaten with a whole spring onion. I looked a little askance at this, but as the saying goes “when in Romania…” and tried it out. Not too bad really, and the homemade cheese and freshly grown tomatoes were fantastic.
This was followed by a pork dish, with really tender meat. The preferred meat in Romania is pork and they certainly know how to cook it. This area of Romania still practices the cultural traditions of centuries, each village having their own colours and styles of hat. They are worn by many of the older people daily, but most would just wear it on Sundays and festivals.
A days touring the area had been organised with a local guide. First stop was the Merry cemetery. A rather mismatch in terms we thought, and wondered what we’d find. Some time ago a craftsman was asked to make a wooden grave marker for someone that had recently died. He
Wearing a traditional hat from this region.
agreed to do so on the proviso that he could carve the inscription as he saw fit. The inscription was a brief poem reflecting the life of the person who died and the carving likewise had something about the person and their profession or qualities in life.
As seems to be the way in Romania, once someone has something the next person wants to follow and go one better. So many people changed headstones to this new form of marker. The carving's were colourfully painted, and were not always flattering to the person that died (it may say that they loved their drink and dancing, or too many women or that they had done other bad things) for the engraver was local he knew the people personally.
There were of course really sad ones of children, or people who were struck by lightening while working in the fields, or even murdered. The original woodcarver wrote some interesting words about his mother-in-law and how she should have been nicer to him (this marker was not placed in the cemetery for some time as the rest of the family didn’t like it, but it has been put in there now).
After looking at the local crafts we headed to the supermarket to get some food for a picnic on our drive across the valley and local hills. We visited a local ethnographic museum and saw houses and their contents from the 17th and 18th centuries. There were always carvings on the gateways including a wolf teeth pattern. In Romania the wolf is seen as a good symbol, very different to what we grow up with.
We stopped at a point with a great view, and found some very tiny fruit that tasted like strawberries before a large storm headed our way. We managed to get to a wooden orthodox church before it really hit. We then visited a famous wood carver who was a real character that loved a chat. He had been to the US to demonstrate his skills in a famous Washington festival and showed us the photos. He and his sons carved gates, decoration for buildings and also artistic pieces. He was interested in getting a crocodile from Australia for some reason, and I joked that if I’d come back I’d bring him some crocodile steaks explaining that they were good eating.
Merry Cemetry 2
Shepherd murdered and decapitated
way we saw the hand reaping of hay being performed as well as the preparation of the hay stacks. Women would stand on the top and men would fork the hay up for them to arrange and press down. Old women would be out tending the vegetable crops such as beans and you really could see that hard work had been their life.
Lastly we visited an orthodox monastery that had been built fairly recently. Set in beautiful grounds and looked after by 17 Nuns. Since the withdrawal of the Russians there has been a large focus on the religious traditions which are largely orthodox.
We returned to our homestay for another amazing dinner. Topped off by some fried fish like white bait that our leader had caught while we were out touring. The local guides had gone with him and found the maggot like bait and about 30 had been caught. These were fried whole and were delicious. We heard also that a neighbour and leader had gone across the river which was the border with Ukraine. They had to put 1 Lei in their passport to make sure they could pass through the border control on
Merry Cemetry 3
Man who died from drinking and smoking too much. Note the devil monkey in the corner.
the Ukrainian side. The host was quite proud that such things no longer happened in Romania, that much had been done to stamp on corrupt practices as a precursor to their joining the EU.
It was a really special time in this homestay/pension.
There are more photos below