Man of the woods in Maramures region


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Europe » Romania » Maramures » Maramures
June 12th 2018
Published: August 2nd 2018
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HE SAID...
Today we were travelling east from Debrecen in Hungary to Maramures in Romania.

We arrived at the Hungarian / Romanian border mid-afternoon, where an austere young policeman came onto the minibus and took our passports. We then waited for an hour, not allowed to get out, until the passports were returned. At one stage we saw the young policeman come outside and have a cigarette, laughing and joking with his fellow police officers only a few metres from where we were trapped inside the minibus. Luckily, our bus driver left the air conditioning on, so we didn’t overheat.

Our passports were finally handed over, and we continued our journey east towards Vadu Izei, a village in Maramures. While the landscape didn’t change much in terms of rolling flat agricultural fields stretching to the horizon, the dwellings were noticeably different – there was an underlying sense of poverty that I hadn’t noticed in Hungary. As we passed though larger cities, there were a lot more concrete housing blocks jutting into the air, and they seemed to have had a much harder life. They were dirtier, more unkempt, more tarnished with rust and weather damage. Yet despite the evident hardship, I saw a lot more Romanian flags hanging from windows in these ubiquitous high rise apartments. Nationalism was alive and well, despite the nation failing to look after so many of its people.

Another issue that stood out in my comparison of the two countries was the roads. We had driven on such smooth and well maintained roads in Hungary, but this all changed once we were over the border. We felt every pothole in the Romanian roads, and there were many of them. We were a little worried about the bottles of wine we’d picked up the night before, as they were in our packs in the back of the minibus, and I didn’t hold much hope for them. There were times when the bumps in the roads were so regular that you could slip into a rhythm with the noise and the jolts.

As we drove further east, mountains began to appear out of the storm clouds on the horizon. We passed through tiny rural villages as we got closer and closer to the Ukrainian border. We stopped to draw out some Romanian lei, and the storm clouds that had been lurking on the horizon were suddenly upon us. Thunder and lightning surrounded us, and we only just made it back to the minibus before the heavens opened. The deluge continued as we drove, with visibility severely reduced. Water and mud was streaming across the roads, and at one point we had to slow to a crawl as we drove through a fast flowing torrent coming down from the hills. We drove through dark forests of tall trees, with lightning flashing just above the canopy.

We eventually arrived in Vadu Izei around 8pm, having been on the road for 11 hours. The rain was torrential, so we were drenched in the short time it took to run from the minibus to the homestay, hiding under anything that offered protection along the way. Unfortunately, we discovered the homestay was full, so we were staying in some overflow rooms a few kilometres away, and we would be transported to and from the main homestay for meals.

We also met Mara (the house cat), a small rescue kitten with a lot of attitude. I’d felt something brush against my leg when we were sitting at the dining table, but I thought nothing of it until Mara jumped onto the lap of one of our travel companions. She was put out a number of times during the night, but always managed to find her way back into the dining room.

We were pretty hungry from a long day of travel, so we were looking forward to this home-cooked meal. We started with palinka (fruit brandy), and it was powerful stuff – 50% proof in fact, so it packed a punch. I absolutely loved it. We also grazed from large plates of bread, cheese, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant dip and zucchini fritters while we waited for the main meal to be served.

We didn’t have to wait long. Big serving bowls of green bean soup were placed on the table along with plates of fresh bread and pickled green chillies. When the soup was finished, enormous serving dishes of veal and mashed potato were placed on the table, from which we helped ourselves. This was absolutely amazing food, and it matched perfectly with the red wine we’d purchased the previous night in Eger. We finished the meal with a thick chocolate slice smothered in coconut, which was very tasty and a perfect way to end the meal.

After our amazing home-cooked meal, we reluctantly trudged out into the wet night and were driven to our overflow room in the main township of Vadu Izei. The rain had stopped, but the impact of the rain was evident. Our external room was small, but the owners were affable and did everything they could to welcome us. We carried our packs up to our room, dropped them on the floor and crashed.

We woke late at 6am, which reflected our exhaustion from the long road trip the previous day. The rain had stopped, but a thick impregnable mist shrouded the township of Vadu Izei, which was a little concerning for us, as we were embarking on a tour of the area after breakfast. Our host drove us to the main homestay house, where breakfast was laid out on a large table. Bread, salami, cheese, fried eggs, zacusca (eggplant and red pepper spread), tomatoes, tea, coffee and jam (plum, quince and strawberry). It was a feast, and a great start to the day.

We were exploring the Maramures region, and our local guide for the day was Victor. As we were very close to the Ukrainian border, I asked him if the war was having any impact on Vadu Izei and the other Romanian border towns. Looking at me out of the corner of his eye, he responded by asking ‘What war?’ An uncomfortable silence ensued. I felt the spotlight of inappropriate dialogue beaming down on me, and I wished I’d remained silent. As my grandfather used to tell me, better to remain silent and appear ignorant than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. He eventually broke the silence by saying there is a small conflict between Russia and the Ukraine that is not impacting Romania in any way. However, if I was looking for something that has impacted the local Romanian population, he pointed in a vague direction towards the hills and said ‘Chernobyl’, which was only 300 kilometres from our current location. He was 11 years old when the nuclear reactor imploded, and he’d witnessed the fallout for most of his life. I decided not to ask any more questions.

The region is renowned for its wooden churches, and our first stop on the tour was the Barsana Monastery (run by nuns) not far from Vadu Izei. The set out and curation of the complex was a little twee, but the structures and sculptures were interesting enough.

We continued on to a local distillery, where we sampled horinka (fruit brandy, the local equivalent of palinka, but rougher) while listening to Victor play violin, accompanied by an old local man on a large drum and cymbal. At one stage Victor put down the violin and picked up a four stringed guitar. The Romanians clearly love the heady mixture of horinka and music. I only discovered the distinction between palinka and horinka after a slightly awkward and unintentional conversation with Victor:
Me: I really like the palinka.
Victor: We don’t call it palinka here – that’s what they call it in Hungary.
Me: What do you call it here then?
Victor: Horinka.

Our tour took in another wooden church – the church of St Nicholas in Budesti – where a casual remark from one of our travel companions (Cheryl) led to the following tete-a-tete between her and Victor:
Cheryl: I think it is going to rain this afternoon.
Victor: How do you know?
Cheryl: I can just feel it.
Victor: Maybe we should put you in the middle of a field and you can tell us the weather, like an old donkey.

This guy did not like idle chatter – conversation was not a casual activity for him. I initially thought he was a disciple of Andre Gide (i.e. Everything that needs to be said has already been said), but he was chatting freely with the Romanian bus driver – in Romanian – towards the end of the day. Maybe he didn’t like baseless weather predictions, or ignorant comparisons to Hungarian produce, or ill-informed conversations about regional politics. Or maybe, just maybe, this was the Romanian way of interaction…

We continued through Maramures’ lush green countryside until we arrived at our lunch destination – an old world restaurant that reminded me of places my parents used to frequent in the 1970s. We shared two dishes – mushrooms with mamaliga (polenta), and fried fish with mamaliga. The fish and mushroom dishes were fabulous, but the mamaliga was, well, polenta. Ren loved it, but I’m still to be convinced it should be eaten. Polenta is a re-purposed building material, and I’m not sure how it has found its way into kitchens the world over. I should have gone for the potatoes. I tried my first Romanian beer with lunch – Timisoreana – and it was fantastic. I’m sure I’ll be having a few more during our time in Romania.

Our next stop was the Memorial Museum to the Victims of Communism and to the Resistance, set in the Sighet maximum security prison that operated between 1948 and 1952. We walked through the torture chambers and wondered how communism had come to this – how man’s quest for power could turn him against his own people. I was struck by the Ceausescu memorabilia in one of the torture cells, including the gowns worn by the two megalomaniacs to their self-bestowed doctorate ceremony. The prison notes suggested the garish nature of the exhibition was a reflection of the couple, but I found the pictures of Ceausescu and Nixon out of place. In stark contrast, a grouping of bronze statues in the prison courtyard was incredibly powerful. The sculptor had captured so much emotion in the way the arms of these statues had been sculpted – fear, horror, incredulity and, most powerfully for me, an unanswered plea to god. This really was a heart-rending and mesmerising work of art.

When we were outside the prison (or Memorial as it is now), I summoned the courage to ask Victor about the nature of questioning inside the prison. What was the focus of the interrogations, and why were people imprisoned in the first place? He glanced at me sideways and asked me what I meant. I hadn’t articulated my question clearly enough, and again found myself floundering under the spotlight of inappropriate dialogue. Another uncomfortable silence. I’m not sure if he’d actually understood my question in the first place (but pretended not to), or whether he just took a stab in the dark, but he decided to respond by suggesting there was no rhyme or reason why people were imprisoned. However, the interrogators took pride in being able to make people admit to anything, and this seemed to fuel their insatiable appetite for interrogation and torture. They could, according to Victor, make a rabbit admit to being a wild pig. He suggested I go and read the visitors’ book to see the ridiculous comments left by tourists, who clearly had – in his opinion – no understanding of the memorial and its meaning. It was time to stop asking questions.

Our final stop of the tour was the Merry Cemetery in Sapanta, where the life story of each person is succinctly depicted in a single carved image and accompanying poem on a colourful wooden cross that juts out of their grave. Interestingly, the stories were not always good – people in this village were more than happy to speak ill of the dead. If a person was an adulterer or alcoholic in life, they were depicted as such in death. It made me wonder what image and poem would be used to sum up my life if I resided here? I shuddered to think.

With the tour over, we headed back to the main homestay house, driving parallel to the Ukrainian border on the way. We could just make out the rooftops of houses in small villages over the border, and I was fascinated with the concept of living so close to the border of another country. Having been on the go since breakfast, we finally got back to Vadu Izei around 6:30pm. After getting a lift to our overflow room with Victor (my new best mate), we quickly showered and freshened up before being driven back to the main homestay house by our host.

We were looking forward to another home-cooked meal. We threw back a horinka to start the night, and it nearly took my head off. I didn’t remember it being so strong the night before, but I loved it regardless. We then grazed from large plates of bread, cheese, tomatoes, meatballs and eggplant fritters while we waited for the main meal to be served.

It wasn’t long before big serving bowls of ciorba (Romanian sour soup with noodles) were placed on the table along with plates of fresh bread. When the soup bowls were empty, enormous serving plates of sarmale (cabbage rolls stuffed with minced pork and rice) were placed on the table, from which we helped ourselves. This was amazing food, and we washed it down with more of the red wine we’d purchased two nights previously in Eger. We finished the meal with a nut and caramel slice, which was incredible.

After another amazing home-cooked meal, we trudged out into the night and were driven to our overflow room in the main township of Vadu Izei. We were exhausted from the day, and it wasn’t long before we were fast asleep.



SHE SAID...
Today was a travel day from Debrecen in Hungary to Maramures (pronounced mah-ra-moo-resh) in Romania, by minibus.

We arrived at the Hungarian / Romanian border just before 2pm, where a border official boarded the minibus and collected our passports. We then just sat and waited, and waited, and waited… After an hour, our stamped passports were handed back. We reset the time an hour forward on our various watches and devices, then started our five hour drive to the Maramures region in northern Romania.

The quality of the roads and housing along the road decreased significantly almost immediately after we crossed the border into Romania. The fields of corn, rye and sunflowers continued, as did the flat landscape. However, I fell asleep for a little while and when I woke up, the flat land had changed to hilly forested terrain and it was raining heavily. Some of the hilly roads were flooded, forcing our driver to slow down to a crawl. I think the brief but heavy showers we’d been experiencing in Hungary had changed to longer and heavier rains.

Maramures sits in the Mara and Iza Valleys, a beautiful rugged region. We gradually left behind big shops and ATMs, and entered a forested medieval world that I thought only existed in fairy-tales. Over the centuries Maramures has variously belonged to Hungary, Transylvania and Austria. Part of the region re-joined Romania in the 20th century, with the reminder allocated to what is now Ukraine.

We arrived in Vadu Izei in the Iza Valley at 8pm, and we were dropped off at Ramona’s lovely homestay house where most of the group were staying. While we would be eating all our meals at the homestay, Bruce, Jenny, Andrew and I were staying at Iliana’s overflow house in another part of the village. It was raining so heavily when we arrived that we were drenched from just running into the house from the minibus.

Dinner was a lovely four course affair which commenced with a welcome shot of homemade horinka (a local version of the palinka fruit brandy). We grazed on zucchini fritters, sheep’s cheese, salata de vinete (eggplant dip), slices of tomatoes and peppers, and bread. It was delicious and I would have been happy with this as my whole meal, but the second course arrived a few minutes later – a creamy green bean soup served with more bread and a side of small pickled green chillies. The main course was a very tasty veal casserole with mashed potatoes, which also matched perfectly with the pickled chillies. Dessert was a delicious chocolate slice coated in coconut, like a mini lamington, but much creamier. We’d heard about Ramona’s legendary cooking skills before we got here, and every word was deliciously true!

We shared bottles of wine from our wine tasting in Eger, and the bottle of homemade horinka stayed on the table until it was finished. It was a very enjoyable dinner, with entertainment provided by their two year old black cat Mara, who wasn’t allowed in the house, but kept sneaking in and seeking out people to cuddle her. She was very beautiful, but had been rescued as a two week old kitten from the Mara River, and she had the unpredictable nature of a cat who wasn’t weaned properly by her mother (as Jenny found out! twice!).

We began our basic Romanian language lessons that night, starting with noroc (cheers – well, of course we started with that), buna (hello) and multumesc (thanks). I had no idea that Romanian was a Romance language (a Latin-based language), and that it was the only Romance language in Central and Eastern Europe. Although it is also included a lot of Slavic words like da (yes), I could happily make sense of a fraction of the language (a huge leap from understanding absolutely nothing in Hungarian).

After dinner Ramona’s husband drove us to Iliana’s homestay. Sadly it wasn’t a traditional homestay in the host’s home, but more like a guesthouse in their backyard. We were disappointed that we were missing out on the interaction of a homestay, but we just had to roll with it.

We felt like we’d slept-in when we woke at 6am, but then remembered that Romania was an hour ahead of Hungary, so our body clocks were still waking us at 5am. We woke to the sound of roosters, doves and distant dogs barking. When I looked out the window, there were corn fields surrounding us and women in traditional clothing tending the fields. We had definitely woken up in rural Romania!

Breakfast was back at Ramona’s home, and we were driven there by the very friendly Iliana. Despite her very limited English, Iliana spiritedly attempted to carry on a lengthy discussion with us. Her brother’s wife had given birth to twins the night before, and the family were in celebration mode. When I meet vivacious people like Iliana, I lament the fact that there isn’t one global language common to us all. She was clearly itching to communicate with us, and I really wanted to hear her stories.

Breakfast was another amazing array of delicious food – bread, fried eggs, cheeses, salami, sausage, pork fat, salata de vinete (eggplant dip), zacusca (red pepper and eggplant dip) and three types of homemade jam (plum, strawberry, quince). I could literally feel my trousers starting to get a bit too snug for comfort.

After breakfast there was an organised guided tour of the many small villages that make up the Maramures region, and we met Victor the local guide. He was a very large bloke with a sometimes-hilarious dry sense of humour, but his sarcastic dialogue and very questionable personal hygiene got a bit trying by the end of the day. This was particularly disappointing because he was clearly knowledgeable, but his demeanour didn’t encourage discussion, and I stopped asking him questions after the first cynical retort. Quick-witted as always, Narelle turned to us and said in a heavy Russian accent ‘Victor, you’re a very unattractive man’ (referencing the politically-incorrect Australian Comedy Fast Forward / Full Frontal). 😊

Unfortunately the rain from the previous day had hung around like a bad smell. Instead of the bright blue skies and lush green fields we’d been expecting to see, we got dirty grey skies and sodden fields with rivulets running through them. No one was insane enough to go out to work in this rain, but there we were driving around trying to get a feel for the very traditional farming area.

The region is apparently slowly modernising, but it’s known for being one of the last peasant cultures in Europe. Looking at the traditional wooden houses and churches, the traditional clothing and the old-fashioned farming tools… we could have been in a community frozen in medieval times. But while they clearly value the traditional culture passed down through generations, they have also embraced modern lives within those traditional constructs.

We started with a stop at the Monastery complex in Barsana. The complex had a museum and a variety of wooden buildings displaying the architectural styles famous in the region. The museum showcased the elaborate woodcarvings, wooden household artefacts, hand-woven carpets and intricate embroidery on clothing still worn by the locals. The range of wooden buildings in the Monastery complex should have thrilled me, but instead left me feeling a bit indifferent. While it was a good way to understand the unique architecture of the all-wooden buildings, the newness of most of the buildings in the Monastery compound felt quite forced and unauthentic (even though they’d been built using traditional materials and accordingly to old principles). My spirits were also dampened by the fact that it was raining heavily on our walk around the complex (pun fully intended). The only building I really enjoyed was the Orthodox Church, as this was my first experience of an Orthodox church and I really loved being there (although it was a difficult church to photograph because in addition to the rain, the steeple was incredibly and disproportionately tall).

Next we stopped in Sarbi to look at a felt making contraption in a shed, as well as a horinka distillation still in an adjoining shed. This tour was turning into one of my most-hated forms of tourism – where you blindly follow a guide like a sheep to look at bits and pieces that they deem to be interesting, with no context or framework to the experience.

Thankfully we dropped into an old couple’s house next door to the sheds, and the day started getting better. Gheorghe and his very lovely wife hosted us while we tasted their homemade plum and sour cherry flavoured horinka. It’s rude to say no to an offer of horinka, so of course we had to have some despite it being before midday! Andrew loved the plain one that was about 50% proof, but I much preferred the sour cherry flavoured one that was slightly sweeter. It was much smoother than I expected, and I had two shots quite easily. It didn’t feel too strong, so I had another half shot. What I hadn’t realised was that horinka is sneaky, and by the time it made itself known, I was back on the minibus. Hello giggly Ren. 😊

As annoying as Victor was as a guide, he entertained us by playing a few Romanian folk tunes on his violin, with old Gheorghe accompanying him on a traditional drum. Gheorghe had donned a traditional shirt and hat just for the performance. Each village apparently has distinctive traditional outfits and styles of hat. It was a lovely but brief encounter with the elderly couple, and many of us agreed that if Victor had as much passion for his local guiding as he had for playing music, we’d have had a fabulous day.

The rain started easing as we crossed to the beautiful Mara Valley. We were finally able to enjoy winding our way through undulating hills covered in wildflowers, fields full of conical haystacks, and sleepy villages reminiscent of the ones in my childhood storybooks. The hay is still cut with scythes, then turned using pitchforks, hung over fences to dry, and finally hand-shaped into those distinct haystacks. At our request, we stopped to admire the unique woven wooden fences and highly decorative wooden gates that stood proudly outside most houses. The gates used to have spiritual significance, but are now apparently symbols of social status.

Our next stop was at the amazing wooden Orthodox church of St Nicholas in Budesti Josani. Maramures is particularly famed for its wooden churches built in the 17th century, and this was one of eight wooden churches in the region that are UNESCO World Heritage listed. The church sat prettily on a small hill surrounded by a cemetery. The high shingled roof structure with a tall and narrow steeple was very imposing, and dwarfed the small body of the church. We walked through the cemetery to the entrance, which was oddly at the back of the church (i.e. away from the road). The church itself was small and dark, with faded but elaborate frescoes adorning every inside wall. The Orthodox churches are usually divided into an ante-temple (outer chamber), the nave (main chamber) and the altar – which is in an enclosed section only accessed by the priest.

Lunch was at La Pintea Haiducu, a restaurant on a trout farm in Desesti. It’s not really the type of touristy place we’d have chosen for lunch, but apparently the food was good. The trout ‘farm’ turned out to be a pond at the entrance, but regardless, Andrew ordered a corn flour coated fried trout and liked it. I ordered a mushroom dish with mamaliga (Romanian corn porridge) and a homemade lemonade. I love corn dishes like polenta, but I also ordered the dish because mamaliga is a much loved local side dish, and the recent rains had caused an explosion of wild mushrooms. However, when the dish arrived, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. There were four mounds of creamy polenta swimming in a sea of creamy mushroom sauce. The mamaliga was delicious, but there was far more cream than anyone should ever have in one sitting! I had also convinced Andrew to have mamaliga with his fish, which probably wasn’t the best course of action as he really didn’t like it, and kept muttering about the building material on his plate. 😊

After lunch we drove to Sighet which was only 2km from the Ukrainian border, and it was odd to be able to make out life – far away houses and farms – on the other side. I’ve always thought that physical country borders are an artificial construct and shouldn’t exist, which is probably why I was so fascinated about being able to see life over the border.

We had our most sobering stop of the day at the prison in Sighet. It was built during the Austro-Hungarian Empire to hold criminals, but it wasn’t until after WWII that it gained notoriety for holding people without trial and for its brutal treatment of opponents / perceived opponents of communism. On just one night in 1950, over 100 politicians, intellectuals, military officers and journalists were brought to the prison, and many of them never left.

It’s now the Sighet Memorial Museum to the Victims of Communism. There was a small chapel in a subterranean setting in a courtyard, where a small reflection pool held candles placed by families of the people who died there. In another courtyard near a high prison wall there was an emotive metal sculpture of a group of people facing a wall, and each person represented the various emotions of prison life – fear, despair, misery etc. 😞

Inside the prison, the walls of the ground floor hallway were lined with photographs of people who had died within those walls. It was quite distressing. The cells and torture chambers were set up with displays describing the harsh life as an inmate during the communist-era. It was an eerie space, but in parts I felt it had been over-sanitised, and may have been better left in its original condition.

We ended our long day of explorations at the Cimitirul Vesel (dubbed Merry Cemetery) in Sapanta. The church in the cemetery was eye-catching, but was easily upstaged by the unique and quirky cemetery. It’s famous for its collection of wooden cross grave markers that are painted an intense blue (called Sapanta blue) and feature brightly coloured hand carved illustrations and satirical verses about the good and bad aspects of a person’s life or death. The depictions were brutally honest. There were illustrations of people working the farm, drinking too much horinka, drowning, or being hit by a car.

This light hearted approach to death apparently represents the locals’ belief that death is only a passage to a better life, an attitude leftover from their Dacian ancestors. The founder of these designs was Stan Ioan Patras, a local artist-poet who produced the first unusual epitaphs in the 1930s. After he died in 1977, his apprentice and other local craftsmen have continued the work. What fascinated me about the process was that the artist had total control over how the person was depicted, and their families had no say! So it probably wasn’t wise to get on the bad side of the artist. 😊

Victor thought it would be interesting to set us a challenge – first person to find the grave markers that depicted a decapitation, and one of three or so deaths by train, would win a small prize. There were close to 1,000 painted crosses, so we took our time wandering around the cemetery. Greg and I found a train death each, but needed help to find the decapitation one. We were both given a small replica grave marker as a souvenir. 😊

Even though Victor hadn’t done a spectacular job, and despite the crap weather, it had been a good day. This was helped a lot by the fact that it was such a unique and beautiful area of the world, and that many within our group had a good sense of humour. We’d taken to giving nicknames to each other, and the first three allocated were Old Donkey (inappropriately given by Victor to someone who had an ability to feel weather changes in her knees), Large Arse (well, that was a self-allocated name due to trouble fitting into a small minibus seat without bruising a cheek), and Man-feet (for having feet too large for local shoe shops). 😄

We returned to our room very tired, but had to rush to shower and get ready for dinner at Ramona’s. We had given our laundry to Ramona in the morning, as had many others, and before dinner we had the unusual task of sorting through the piles of everyone’s (thankfully clean!) clothes to find our own. Luckily, there was no accidental taking of someone else’s clothes or underwear!

The entree at dinner were pretty much the same as the previous night, but with meatballs and an eggplant fritter rather than a zucchini one. The soup was the much talked about ciorba (Romanian sour soup with noodles), and the main dish was delicious sarmale (cabbage rolls stuffed with minced pork and rice). I wasn’t a huge fan of the sour soup, but I loved the stuffed cabbage rolls very much! Dessert was the absolute highlight of all our meals with Ramona – a layered slice with nuts and caramel. The bottom layer was nut meal with egg whites, the thin middle layer was white chocolate, and the top layer was caramel and nuts. It was so seriously more-ish!

The red wine we’d bought from Eger continued to flow, and the bottle of homemade horinka on the table was viewed much more affectionately than the night before. I had a couple of glasses and really felt its effects by the time we were driven back to our room. I just can’t get used to how horinka sneaks up on me!

It was going to be an early start for a long day of travel the next day, so we forced ourselves to pack that night. Given our state of inebriation, neither of us had any confidence that we’d done a good job.

I enjoyed our time in Maramures. My first impression of the area was that time had forgotten this part of the world, but that’s too simplistic and not quite the truth. They are clearly very proud of their heritage and probably somewhat defined by it. Even though there are now modern aspects to the people and the villages in the region, their relationship with their traditional heritage is clearly strong.

Next we travel south to the medieval town of Sighisoara… in the legendary land of Transylvania.

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3rd August 2018
merry cemetery

On roads, borders and places we have also been to
I really loved reading your blog from Romania because it brought back many good memories from when we were there. I had completely forgotten about Budesti for instance but Merry Cemetery I remember clerarly. It is hard to forget! I never saw the one who was decapitated though. I am surprised that you had problems at the border. Hungary and Romania are both in the EU and, even though Romania aren't part of Schengen yet, I still would expect passport control to take a minute at the most. We drove around Romania for three weeks when we were there and we still remember the signs saying "Drum in lucru", which means "Road work". There were many of those signs and often the road works went on for 30 km or more. So we also know that the roads in Romania can be in poor condition. /Ake
3rd August 2018
merry cemetery

Re: On roads, borders and places we have also been to
Did you blog about your Romanian trip Ake? I'll have to have a look! I loved Budesti, and if we ever find ourselves in Maramures again, it would be a nice village to stay in. I think they need to get those 'Drum in lucru' signs out again, as the roads in Maramures desperately need some love and attention!
3rd August 2018
merry cemetery

Six blogs dated in July 2015
We wrote a total of six blog entries from Romania. That was in 2015 and the dates of them are all in July that year. It should be easy enough to locate them using that info. Just visit our blog and scroll through until you reach them. They are all numbered Romania I to Romania VI so once you locate one the others are easily found. /Ake
4th August 2018
merry cemetery

Re: Six blogs dated in July 2015
Thanks Ake, I'll look them up this weekend :)
3rd August 2018

Rugged beauty
Once again you given us a taste of the culture, the foods, the people and the rugged beauty. Prison visits always show the underbelly detalis of a country along with cemeteries, museums and the contrasting beauty of the churches. Thanks for the foodie photos.
4th August 2018

Re: Rugged beauty
Glad you are enjoying the food photos MJ! Our knowledge of the history and culture of this part of the world was very limited, so we really loved finding out more about it. You're so right about seeing the underbelly of a place... we also usually come across it when we are out looking for a laundry :)
3rd August 2018

Waking late at 6 am?
Wow, by reading some of your entries, I can see that you are both quite busy even when travelling, I am jealous as you seem to have everything sorted out even before the holiday. I guess that's what people should do and I am sure that while your passports were retained, you were probably planning the visits... anyway, your pictures are just amazing, like taken from a travel book and I love the fact that you taught us some vocabulary, nice for so like me who is so interested in languages. I enjoyed it very much, keep it up
4th August 2018

Re: Waking late at 6 am?
Thanks for your lovely comment Frank! I just wish we'd had more blue skies for the photos from this region...but the rain gave us an insight into how variable weather affects the farming community (who had been praying for rain five days earlier, but then got too much rain and feared their crops were going to be ruined by water logged fields!). We can't take too much credit for our early starts - we travel east on our holidays and the time difference works very much in our favour :)
3rd August 2018

I am really enjoying reading each segment of your trip! (Again, love the "He said... & She said" and you both write so beautifully!) I found your descriptions of the Merry Cemetery really interesting and would have loved to see more photos of the grave markers. I can empathize with you on your guide, Victor. When we recently took a long day tour of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in Iceland, I was very unhappy with our guide and some of his sarcastic remarks in general, his lack of helpfulness, and even his political remarks.
4th August 2018

Re:
Thank you for your compliment! :) I think you may have met Victor's Icelandic cousin! We had been really looking forward to getting insights from the local guide that we couldn't get from our guidebook... and we normally tend to get amazing guides, so we were quite disappointed. I will see if I can send you some more photos of the cemetery via private message.
12th August 2018

Group tour
Interesting to read about your tour. The food seems to have been amazing , and you certainly packed in such a lot. I am not sure if I would have been happy with your guide’s attitude and how did you feel about not staying in the main homestay. Perhaps the peasant life there would be a bit too much for me !
12th August 2018

Re: Group tour
Hi Lynne! We weren't happy about the overflow homestay situation, but we tried not to dwell on it... The home cooked food was so good, but I think I would be the size of a house if we had regular access to food like that :)

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