Sunday, 16 February 2020

Maramures Part 2 - Churches and Countryside

Good morning Maramureș!
Who are you?
So I'd been travelling up in the North of Romania for the last day and a half, and absolutely loving it. I caught an overnight train to get to Baia Mare, a mini bus early in the morning to see some wooden churches, some country hiking trying to avoid angry dogs, and now it was time to do some hitchhiking! I made it up to the main road and to a bus stop, a few houses on the road and not much else, traffic included. Without times or anything that I could understand anyway, I figured the bus that dropped me off wasn't coming back in a hurry, nor would there be another possibly until the next day. I've hitchhiked a few times, in Argentina, Chile and Romania as well, but to be honest you could count how many times on my fingers. I stuck out my thumb, stood up straight and smiled. It didn't take long at all, about 4 cars in fact, before someone pulled over and offered me a lift! There is something exhilarating about successfully getting a ride, your heart beats faster and you get excited that someone has actually decided to let you in their car. There is also the part where they could be a serial killer, but hey, they are probably thinking the same about you! I jumped in the van, a guy clearly a delivery driver of some sort, and off we went, whizzing through the green countryside. We didn't chat, as he spoken no English, but I told him where I was going and get took me there in record time. 26kms later and around 30 minutes, I said thank you in my best Romanian and hopped out, ready to walk through the next small town to my next small wooden church. I walked down into the village of Budești, to the first of 2 churches here. I was the only foregner as far as I could tell (although I saw the French couple, from the first church, in their van as I was leaving), and it was a very authentic village of wooden houses, decorative gates and even a guy walking down the street with a scythe. Yup, you don't see many of these tools, but here in Romania you have to watch out for your head when walking and taking pictures, as they are still very much used in farm work and people do carry them around over their shoulders.

Budești Josani Church.
Inside the church.
The holy log.
Cows waiting to be milked.
The weather was warm, the sun shining, shirt sleeves rolled up and I was sweating, but a happy sweat as I was completely free, enjoying the weather and my surroundings, and I wasn't even worried that I didn't have accommodation for tonight. I have to apologise if I get the names of these churches wrong, but the names are difficult to pronounce and write, and I think even Google was a little confused here. The first church, the wooden church of Budești Susani, was up a hill and a little away from the centre, but I found it and glad i did. Although closed, I was able to walk around the church and the grounds and admire it in peace, as there were no people here at all. This church dates back to 1760, the iconostasis (the decorated wall that separates the nave from the alter) is even older (1628) and the main building is said to have been built in 10 days. I wasn't able to see the beautiful paintings inside, but the next church in the centre of town was open and I did go into that. The Church of St Nicholas, or the Budești Josani Church, is open to the public for a small fee and photos are even allowed inside. I waited with a group of Romanians to be let inside and and go exploring. The walls are filled with paintings dating from when the church was built back in 1643, and although the interior was a little dark, you could still see everything clearly with the light let in by the tiny windows. This could be a reason why the paint has survived so well in fact, as they looked quite new and fresh. The whole church was timber and in some parts it felt a little unstable, but I guess if it's stood for this long, it wouldn't fall when I decided to climb the stairs to see the second floor. Inside, there was a cabinet with a glass front, displaying a split log with a burnt crucifix on the wood. I read the description and it said that the log was found in Budești on the 30th of March 1998 as it appears here: "Neither the chainsaw and ax have broken no sign so dear to all Christians Holy true. God deigned to give us this wonderful sign in the Holy and Great Lent just of Easter." After walking around and taking some photos, I went to the supermarket (at least this place was big enough for one!) and waited for the bus to take me to the next town.

Traditional methods.
The main road of Săpânța at sunset.
Wooden roofs.
Brightly coloured graves.
I have to mention these 'buses' that I caught all around up here. They weren't what you normally of as buses, more minibuses or just big vans with loads of seats in them. Sometimes you get them from a bus depot, sometimes just on the street. In fact, one time I had been waiting at the stop and cars just kept stopping and picking up people, who I assumed they knew. It kept happening and I worked out that these cars were 'buses' too. I asked a police officer just to make sure, and he looked at me like I was an idiot, which passed for 'of course this is the bus, why would you ever doubt it.' Other times I go the bus from a 'real' depot, but still it was a little weird and I never knew exactly when the bus would arrive, or if, as there wasn't much in the way of timetables or spoken English. What I also found was that the drivers acted as a local postal service too and were delivering small packages to people when they stopped to unload their human cargo. I find this really quite interesting! My next stop was the The Merry Cemetery in the village of Săpânța, something that had been recommended to me and was my first, real tourist destination along this route that I'd chosen. I got off the bus after a lovely drive through the countryside and found myself on the main road of town. I decided to find accommodation here first, to be able to dump my bag and walk around freely. The place I had in mind, Casa Vlad, was just across the road to where I'd got off so I went to investigate. Run by a jovial old lady, who was all dressed up in traditional clothing, including the head scarf. She also didn't speak a word on English, so my teaching skills were put to the test, relaying meaning and gaining understanding of what I was being told as well as answering. I mustn't have done too badly as I scored a big room, located the bathroom and got a decent price. I dropped by bags and headed straight for the cemetery. So far, I'd seen very few, if any, tourists, but this was about to change - as soon as I turned the corner to the only other road in town, I started seeing mini-buses, cars with families, roadside stalls selling tat as well as more and more people everywhere. To be honest, it wasn't that bad, not like it was Barcelona in August in front of the Sagrada Familiar, but for Romania, and especially this part of the country, it was heaving! I paid the small entrance to visit the site, even though I could clearly see over the wall, and started wandering around and admiring the strange site that is the Merry Cemetery. The thing that makes this place 'merry' are the brightly painted 'headstones' - wooden crosses with pictures of the 'occupant below' doing what they loved in life. There are pictures of some people working on their farm, having dinner with a friend, and even one with a a guy driving a car. I did start to wonder if the scene depicted was how they person actually died, and as I can't read Romanian, I wasn't sure so decided that it was in fact the things they did in life rather than how they go to where they are now. These markers were in various states or repair (or disrepair), but all colourful and interesting, completely matching the church with it's nearly too colourful roof and decorations. Sadly work was being done on the inside and I couldn't see much, but still, I think people came for the graves more than another church.

Colours everywhere in the Merry Cemetery.
The Merry Cemetery.
More wooden churches.
Church spires in the distance.
I had a late lunch and wandered over to the Peri-Săpânţa Monastery, a short walk from the village. Although only completed in 1997, it was built in the same, wooden style as all of the churches in this region and was very beautiful. There wan't much information and only 2 buildings to look at, one of which was closed (possibly for the monks or priests who lived there), but one man spoke to me to practise his English and told me a little about this place. The church spire is 78m tall, supposedly making it the tallest wooden church in the World, and is a UNESCO site, along with the other wooden churches. There really was't much here, but it was very pleasant and not too full of tourists either. I decided to go for a sunset walk after this, as I'd seen some spires in the distance and decided to check them out. I walked out of my lodgings and headed East. Basically a 2 road town, forming a T intersection at the bus stop, I didn't have much choice, but I was happy just to wander along the road and see what I see. It was lovely, as I saw people go about their normal lives, old ladies gossiping to each other, knitting wool on the roadside, people cycling home and even a farmer cruising down the road on his tractor. I came to a rise and walked off the road, walking through tall grass to find a lookout point with a view of the river Tisa and the Ukraine. I'm not sure what town it was but I could see the very distinctive Russian-style church towers, which I think look like onions, just across the river. I admired the view, the peace and quiet, watching the sunset and thinking how lucky I was to be here, at the edge of Romania. It felt like the edge of the World to me at the time. The next day was going to be a big one, so I went to bed after my walk and slept. There also wasn't much to do around here once the sun went down to be honest. I grabbed a bus early in the morning, got off too late to easily get the next bus (the driver was quite surprised to see me still sitting on his bus as he was nearly home!) but managed to find the depot and walk there, seeing a little of Sighetu Marmației along the way.

Peri-Săpânţa Monastery and its 78m spire.
The countryside of Maramureș.
the Carpathian Forest Steam Train.
The Peri-Săpânţa Monastary.
I caught my next bus and made it to the town of Vișeu de Sus. This town was far busier than anything I'd come across on my whole trip up here so far. A bustling main road, shops full of people, traffic and just lots going on, I started to think that I'd made a mistake. I came here to see the Carpathian Forest Steam Train, a narrow-gauge railway that twists and turns its way through the wooded mountains, which you can't get to by car - there is also wild bears and wolves roaming around. It was built in the 30s and designed to carry empty logging cars up through the mountains, following the river, picking up logs and then making its way back down. I wanted to check out the timetables for a ride, but wasn't planning on it to be honest - I mainly wanted to see this little train in action, not sit on it for hours with a carriage load of tourists. I found the road leading to the station and walked there in about 30 minutes, reached the station and discovered that I had a 30 minute wait for the train - the perfect amount of time to wander and take some photos of the relics in the yard, and sip a beer in the shade. The train arrived, huffing and puffing its black smoke skywards, trundling down the railway to sit at the station. I took some photos and admired the last operating forest railway in Europe before heading off for my 'normal' train back to Bucharest. Although I'd enjoyed myself immensely up here in Maramures, the other places that I wanted to see are quite remote and hard to get to. Places like the Bârsana monastery and much further over in Moldova, would have to be missed - I also had a flight to catch in 4 days time. I left the steam train as it smoked its way back into the mountains and walked to my train station for the overnight train back. Vișeu de Jos, the next town, was about an hour's walk away and I decided to walk there as the weather was lovely. That and I couldn't find a bus to take me there. I made it to the station, even enjoying the walk (apart from the car exhaust as I walked on the side of the road), bought my ticket and then had to wait 3.5 hours for it to arrive. The train station was absolutely bare minimum of everything - including seats. There were also more stray dogs there than passengers waiting for their train. It looked liked it was being repaired but not much work had been done yet (and there was even a scythe in the bathroom!), so I went across the road to a bar. I spent a bit of time sitting at the local bar, having a few beers with the locals, 2 guys in particular were really interesting. Vlad and Ion, neither who spoke English, were great company - we shared beers and chatted away, using hand signals as well as a mix of Spanish, Italian and English (for my own benefit only). We had a storm hit us while I was waiting, and the shopkeeper kindly hustled us inside to wait it out. It was a wonderful experience of Romanian kindness and genuine friendliness, and the best way to finish of my trip in Maramureș.

Sunset on the Ukrainian border.
Drum bun! Farewell!

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MyUncleTravellingMatt. August 2019.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Maramures Part 1 - The Journey North

Sunset in Bucharest.
My bunk for the night.
I love train travel.
July had flown by! I don't know if it felt the same for everyone else, but for me it was over before I knew it. Work at the camp was over for another year, and although sad to see the students for the last time, as some of them wouldn't be coming back due to age restrictions, it was good to be free! We loaded up our ride back to Bucharest and jumped in, ready to chill for the 3 hours it would take (in good traffic) to reach the hotel. I had a week before heading off on my real holidays, a week to kill in Romania, and I wasn't exactly sure what the plan was. I'd spent plenty of time in the capital, so much so that I wasn't really that interested in another day even, sorry to be said. Last year I caught a bus down to Bulgaria as well as spending some time in Sinai and Brasov. A few years back I worked my way up by train to Sibiu and Sighisoara and loved it. I was hard pressed for somewhere I could go, by public transport, and something that wouldn't be just another city to walk around. I really wanted a little outdoor time, to enjoy the countryside and the sun at the start of August. So I got speaking to some of the Romanian teachers during the drive down and decided to follow their advice and head North. Far North, right up to the border of the Ukraine into Mureș County, the historical region of Transylvania. After getting back to the city, I crashed at the hotel for a bit before heading back out for dinner and a beer with the other teachers. It was good to get out of camp, have a proper, non-camp meal, and a few beers. Plans were talked about and it was decided - a train to the North! I made a trip to the train station the next morning to check out times and prices, and ended up booking an overnight, sleeper train to Baia Mare for the same night.

All aboard and let's go!
One of the many churches in this city.
A big brick church.
Baia Mare.
I'd been on trains in Romania before, and they were always interesting, but this was my first time on a sleeper. I got to the station around 9, a few snacks already bought, and got on my train. I found my carriage and bunk easily enough, folded my bed down and made myself comfortable. Only 2 more people were in my carriage, which was good, as the last thing I needed was for it to be packed, hot and sweaty and even noisy or smelly. As the train started off into the night, I got my book and started to read a bit before trying to get some sleep. My bed was surprisingly comfortable and I soon started to get sleepy, enjoying the movement of the train and the steady clickity-clack of the wheels on the rails. My cabin mates were also getting comfortable, but not quite ready for bed. There was an older woman travelling with a man, mother and son I thought, and while she had gone to bed, he was on his phone and was happily looking at photos of semi-naked women. I have no idea if it was Tinder or Facebook (or some other app), but he was unashamedly scrolling through loads of photos of girls in skimpy outfits. Each to their own I guess, even when your mother is sleeping above you. I turned over and went to sleep and hours later I awoke to the steady noise of a moving train and the sun just peeking over the horizon and into my face through the window. Not a bad way to wake up, not quite going to sleep in one country and waking up in another, but I'd soon find out that this part of Romania is very different to what I'm used to. I got off at my stop, after quickly re-folding my bed, and walked out into Baia Mare, 600 kilometres from Bucharest, 70 km from the border with Hungary, and 50 km from the border with Ukraine. Let the adventure begin!

My first wooden church in Maramures... but there's more to come!
Stephen's Tower in 
Building in the centre - looks like an old theatre, now a supermarket.
Baia Mare - pretty but not much to do.
The hunt for accommodation began as soon as I stepped off the train. I hadn't booked anything before getting here as I wanted to know the lay of the land first. Having no idea where I was, or even what I was going to do, I headed more or less for the centre, checking out Google Maps for places to sleep along the way. There wasn't much in the way of hostels or cheap stays. I spotted the Hotel Mara, a big concrete building shining white in the sun, which looked quite fancy even though I think it had seen better days - it was still definitely out of my price range. I kept going, following Google to one place but then found myself in front of a slightly shady looking apartment building and nothing more. I managed to find a good deal at a small motel for a third of the price of the Mara, with an en-suite room, air-con and a 5 minute walk to a big supermarket. This would be be spot for the night, my place to cool down after walking all day and put together my plan of operations - I still had no idea what to see and do! The plan was to walk into the old centre, find a tourist information spot and get some ideas. I know what you're thinking - why get an overnight train to somewhere if you have no idea what to do? I did have some idea of what was here and what I wanted to see, just how I was going to go about it was the problem. In this part of the country they are famous for their wooden churches and rustic countryside. I wanted to see some of these churches and do some walking. The town centre was a little disappointing, but then again I wasn't sure what I was expecting. It was quiet and just a few bars and restaurants in the main square. Some buildings were quite nice but most were a little run down and nothing really special. The only thing of note is Stephen's Tower, a 40m tall, stone, Neo-Gothic stone tower. Originally the bell tower for the church built in the late 14th Century, it was rebuilt in 1559 and restored in 1619 and a mechanical clock was finally added in 1628. It sits in a small square with a (closed) museum and 2 churches. Nice for a few pics but not much else.

The Tower and churches.
The River Sasar that runs through the city.
The Butcher's Tower - last part of the old wall.
A very large church.
I found the tourist information in the square as well, although it was easy to miss. Google kept pointing me in the general direction, and I always seemed to over-shoot the target, until I discovered it was down some fairly well hidden stairs. After all that work, there was next to nothing in regards to pamphlets and things to do in the area, so I moved on. I walked down to the river and found the County Museum of History and Archaeology, but was also let down by this as there was nobody there and didn't seem to be anything on display. I walked in (for free) and wandered around for a bit, only to find locked doors and not much else. Feeling hot and a bit bothered, I decided to walk to the tour agent which I'd found and see what deals they had. This was the best thing I'd done all day as I walked right past another tourist information kiosk, this one in the local council chambers. The people here, both of whom spoke English extremely well, were very helpful and gave me plenty of ideas. I now had more of a plan of attack and also had to do it on my own - I found that tour agency and everything was already booked out. I walked back to the train station, where the bus station was also, and enquired about a bus to where I needed to go to start my do-it-yourself wooden church tour. The building, which must have been built in the Soviet days, was interesting in an ugly, concrete, half-falling apart kind of way. The guy there didn't sell me a ticket, and there was only hand-written information (all in Romanian), so he just told me that you can buy one of the bus and that the bus will be here around 6:30am. He wasn't exactly sure of the time (but told me not to worry), which didn't give me a great feeling, but figured if I'm 15 minutes early, luck would be on my side. It was a productive day and I felt good having organised everything myself from scratch. I did get up early and got the bus too, and that was the start of my real adventure into this part of the country!

Stephen's Tower.
The town centre of Baia Mare.
Interesting sculpture in the centre.
Big bells.
The bus picked up people along the way, anywhere along the road as far as I could see, and let people off as well. I couldn't see the system to it, but I'm sure there was one, an unwritten country law between bus driver and passenger. I was watching on my mobile to see where I needed to get off, as nobody spoke English well and I couldn't pronounce the name of the town properly either. The little red bus drove through Baia Spire and down to Șurdești, my stop. I asked the driver to let me off, and he didn't really believe me that I wanted to stop in the middle of nowhere at 7am in the morning. A lone tourist with hiking boots and backpack isn't a common sight here I don't think. I pretty much jumped out and immediately felt the fresh air of the countryside after being jammed in with (already) sweaty and smelly people. To be fair, I was offered a seat by a gypsy family at the back and I ended up sharing half a seat with and old lady, I shouldn't be so nasty about how they smelt - it was probably the old bus to be fair. I found my first wooden church within minutes, although I don't think it was one of the old ones on the route. There was nobody there, and the lock on the gate was a simple stick passed though a hole, so I walked in and even climbed the small bell tower for a view of the surrounding countryside. Already feeling fantastic and free, I hiked off down the road to see the next church. I saw 2 other churches, tall, wooden structures that were built nearly 300 years ago! The Biserica Penticostala Șurdești (Church of the Holy Archangels) was a particularly impressive sight, and I was there practically alone, apart from 2 couples in camper vans who'd slept in the car park overnight. Although I couldn't go inside and see the 18th century paintings, the outside was amazing enough. Black in some parts, the newer roof 'tiles' were fresh and a light brown colour, showing the restorations taking place. After some quiet time and some photos, I walked up up the hill, aiming to hit the road and somehow get 18kms to the next town and my next church. I walked through little hamlets, Romanian homesteads with farm animals and dogs everywhere, fruit and vegetables growing everywhere, green grass and freshly stacked hay in fields - the postcard scene of Romania that I love. I even saw a huge pig in his little pen, built right up against the house and barns with cows ready to be hand milked. Gorgeous countryside and something I'll never forget. 

The country life.
But my adventures here weren't over yet - I still had more to see and do here. I had to hitchhike to the next town, do some more hiking along country roads, find more transport to get to a place where I could stay the night, as well as see the Happy Cemetery and more. This trip was going along very smoothly, and making it up as I went along was turning out to be just the right way to do it!

Maramureș County - The Real Romania.
Remember to also follow me on Instagram at:

MyUncleTravellingMatt. August 2019.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Medieval City

On our way to Sigi!
Rupea Citadel on its hill.
Storks in their nests.
With only 5 and a half weeks in Romania, just over 4 of those taken up with work at the camp, it wasn't always easy trying to get away and see some of the country. Working at the camp was going along just fine - as always, the kids were great, surprising me with how well they use English and actually enjoy it at the same time. The boss of the hotel, Rasvan, is a lovely guy who always tries to make us happy and comfortable. Whether it's wine in his private cellar or barbecued meat with all the trimmings, he will do anything to keep us happy and smiling - but this time he'd outdone himself. I was greeted over breakfast with his usual grin and warm "hello my friend!" and a good handshake, but right after this he offered his car for the day. I was taken aback at this, asked him to make sure this is what he meant (as his English is a little lacking in vocabulary, but not enthusiasm), and so there it was - I had a car for the day! Plans were made quickly, a sandwhich packed and the keys collected. His car was an older model 4x4, not out of place in the mountains around here, but the strange thing was that it was a right hand drive, imported from the UK. This wouldn't be a problem, just a little strange at first. I'm from Australia, so the wheel was on the correct side for me, and I'd owned a van in Spain and driven it all the way to England, so I'd done this before... just have to remember to stay on the right (and correct) side of the road! So, where was I going? A few places came to mind, although with only a day to drive, there weren't a lot of choices... but my work colleague who was joining me (and acting as navigator as it was my first time driving in this country), had never been to Sighișoara. The choice was easy then - a 2 hour drive and we'd be in one of the most beautiful and well-preserved citadel towns in Europe.
A family of storks in their nest, which I think is built to help them nest and breed.
The big citadel on the hill.

Market day in the village.
Cetatea Rupea.
I had my co-pilot and friend Glenn in the car with me, and while I worked my way alone the small national roads of Romania, he guided me with the GPS. We made a few wrong turns along the way, due to phone reception and also not looking at the phone as the countryside was just so  damn beautiful. These little deviations, however, weren't a hassle - we saw some very interesting things along that way that weren't part of the plan. In Romania in Summer, you will see many power lines with bird's nests on them, large constructions with storks sitting in them. I'd never seen these birds before, only their nests on chimneys and poles, so this was a treat. They are very large birds, famed for delivering babies in Romania and many other countries - something I could believe logistically as they looked big enough for the job! One village we drove through even had some sort of festival or market running and there were big crowds of people buying and selling everything from fruit and veg to chairs and plastic toys. This in itself was nice to see, real countryside life, but the thing that amazed me was that everyone was getting to the fair by horse and cart! The traffic was horrible and the parking lot even worse - horses don't exactly come with the latest rear vision cameras, parking sensors and they don't like walking backwards either! We carefully made our way through town, trying to avoid hitting any horses or have them hit us, and continued on our way to Sighișoara. Along the way, we decided to have a quick stop, a half way leg stretcher, in the town of Rupea to see the Rupea Citadel (Cetatea Rupea). We parked the car near the central park to have a quick walk, and run into a Romanian wedding! Everyone one was dressed up in big puffy dresses, the guys in fancy 3-piece suits, and more photographers than any one wedding party needs. They love their weddings here I can tell you, and if we'd hung around much longer I probably would've been made an official photographer! We could see the citadel from the park too, it was that big. The castle is first mentioned in 1324 when German Saxons sought refuge from King Charles of Hungary, but the site is one of the oldest archaeological sites in Romanian, dating from the Neo and even as far back as Palaeolithic (The Old Stone Age which goes back 3 million years). The citadel was originally an ancient Dacian fortress conquered by the Romans, and by the 14th century it had become an impression defensive construction. Sitting on a 120m stone bluff, it is very impressive - it has recently been restored and more than 10,000 tourists now visit every year. Unfortunately we didn't visit, as that would've taken most of the day, but we were happy just seeing it from the distance.
Walking the streets.
Time for a beer!
Its in the details
We finally arrived at the beautiful city of Sighișoara. We found parking easily enough, and also with a stunning view over rooftops to the Clock Tower and the Sighișoara City Hall. Walking through the 'new' town is also interesting, as you're able to see traditional Romanian buildings, maybe 19th century and quite nice, with blocky, Communist-era buildings plopped right next door, making a real Beauty and the Beast contrast. We walked up the hill and into the old town, through the large gatehouse under the Clock Tower. Sighișoara is a popular tourist destination, like many other places here, but apart from the usual Romanian tourists, there are quite a few international ones too. The main reason people visit is for its well-preserved walled old town, which is also listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. You can freely walk around the walls, see the towers and even go in some. The streets are cobbled and the buildings are old, cute and very colourful. There are quite a few restaurants to sit and eat, as well as an abundance of cheap souvenirs stores too. A lot of people come here to see Vlad Dracula's house, father of Vlad the Impaler. The man actually did stay here between 1431 and 1435, hosted by the mayor of the city, seeking refuge during the Turkish invasion of Wallachia. Dracul was Vlad Tepes' father and ruler of the Wallachian kingdom at the time and legend has it that the little dracula was born here in this house. It is the oldest stone structure in the city and could well be the birth place of Bram Stoker's most famous character. Being what it is (or could be), the owners have no shame in proclaiming it Dracula's house and have a Dracula-themed restaurant as well as a weapon and souvenir store set up too. The restaurant didn't interest me at all, apart from the tacky theme, it was full of Americans and the prices were pricey. The shop was interesting though and there are real hand-crafted, traditional Romanian painted eggs and other cool souvenirs. By this stage, it was hot and we were a little parched, so we stopped at a pretty little restaurant along the wall for a refreshing beer.

The Clock Tower of Sighișoara
The gorgeous old town of Sighișoara.
The Bootmaker's Tower - One of 10 in the city.
This city is stunning!
The beer was just what was needed for two weary travellers. The service, however, left a little to be desired, but it's not like I'd be coming back anytime soon anyway. The Clock Tower is always in sight of wherever you walk in the city, and many people climb it (15 lei) to get a good view of the surroundings. I decided not to face the queue to get in and up, but to walk the walls and enjoy the view that way, away from the crowds. The tower is a 14th century construction, built to defend the main gate, and also served as the town hall for some time. Later, a few more storeys were added to it, with a balcony and roof. Sadly in 1676 the tower along with much of the city was burnt, but it was restored and improved, but what makes it unique are the wooden puppets next to the clock. The figures are the Peace Goddess, a little drummer, Justice and Righteousness as well as 2 angels who represent Night and Day. What you probably wouldn't notice until reading about it (the same as me) is that there are little moving figures that change every day of the week. The clock was modernised in the 60s to run on electricity, and the tower has also served as a museum since 1898. Walking the walls I bumped into a fellow Nikon shooter and we had the weirdest conversation - it started by this guy and his dad (both holding cameras) walking past us and he said 'nice camera.' I said thanks and then we got chatting. His dad had been to Romania many years ago, before the fall of Communism, and his son was taking him back to see what had changed and what hadn't. The city hadn't changed much, apart from tourists, but society was very different then. It was a nice little chat, honest, spontaneous and friendly. We said goodbye and wished each other well on our travels and photos and parted. Sometimes meeting someone for 5 minutes then never seeing them again can leave an impact on your, change your mood, restore faith in people - you don't have to be Facebook friends and Instagram followers with everyone!

Welcome to Sighișoara!
Walking the walls.
Coloured houses and cobbled streets.
Don't forget to look up!
It was a warm and pleasant day, we walked around the walls, checking out the towers, enjoying the beautiful colourful houses, cobbled stones and the feel of a medieval city. Oppsite the Clock Tower is the Tailor's Tower, one of 10 towers on the walls, and serves as the second gateway into the city. All have names, the Tin Tower, Butcher's, Furrier's, Ironsmith's, Bootmaker's, Tailor's, Tanner's, Ropemaker's and the Face Tower. I'm not sure why they are called this, maybe the tower was in the are where these tradesmen worked, or maybe during peacetime they were actually used for this purpose. Between the Town Hall and Monestary Church is a statue of Vlad Tepes (1431-1476), the famous 'Dracula.' Although not actually a vampire, he was very real and fought the Ottomans for some time, keeping Romania (or Wallachia as it was known then) free. He is famous for impaling people and his tendency for cruel punishment, most famously the two envoys sent from the Turks asking for homage that were put on stakes. I've also read that he was a great military leader, as he learnt from the Ottomans when his father gave him and his brother as a hostages to secure his loyalty to the Empire. After a good lunch we headed back to the car and made out way back home. In this part of Romania there are a lot of fortified churches, something that you don't really get anywhere else. These churches have thick, defensive walls and the church tower looks far more like a bastion in a castle. When these churches were built, it was a troubled time in the country as a mix of German, Hungarian, Romanians and Turks lived and fought together.

The Clock Tower.
'Dracula' was born here.
The fortified church in Criț.
The local pub at Criț... plenty of parking out front.
We saw the town of Cața from the highway on the way up and only stopped for a photo, so we decided to stop at Criț, which was right on the road home.  I went to the church for a look, amazed at it's thick gate and walls, and when I entered I saw a cute little courtyard with small buildings built into the walls, clearly places for tradesman to work, or even to store weapons and house soldiers in war time. There was some traditional Romanian clothes in the church, and although the church was quite standard, it was cool to go in when nobody else was there and wander around. I didn't go right up to the bell tower, even though it was open, as the stairs got very creaky! The fact that they were moving a lot wasn't a great sign that they could hold my weight and judging by the thick layer of dust, nobody else had risked it lately either. We enjoyed the setting sun with a beer (zero alcohol for me) at the Casa Kraus, a 3 star hotel and restaurant which also owns the church. We asked and it is run by Germans and hosts many Germans there for hotel and restaurant booking, which I found weird as we were in rural Romania. The drive out was interesting too, a stark contrast to where we'd just had a beer. The town had one road, from the road to the church, like most Romanian towns, but it was completely unpaved, so we drove slowly to avoid rocks kicking up on the car, which allowed us to see (and take photos as we drove) a very traditional Romanian village. There were kids playing in the street (without phones), people sitting at the bar having a drink (which had a horse and cart parked up out the front), and even old ladies in head scarfs carrying metal pails of milk. Like time had stopped. We jumped back onto the main road and headed home and to the last week of camp. The hard work had been done and I'd also had a good time getting away and seeing more of the country.

Cața and its fortified church - one of many in Romania.
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MyUncleTravellingMatt. July 2019.

Maramures Part 2 - Churches and Countryside

Good morning Maramureș! Who are you? Oink! So I'd been travelling up in the North of Romania for the last day and a half, a...