luni, 27 septembrie 2010

Still walking in Maramures - statistics about horse and carts!

We were on the fourth day of walking and every day I had been expecting to get a lift from a horse and cart. Unfortunately, it just happened that we didn't find one going in the right direction. On this morning we were walking along the Sas valley through Botiza village to end at its centre and then start our walk over the hill. It is a 3 km walk along the road and I said again "This is the time I wish a horse and cart would appear". I had said the same when we were walking between Budesti and Sarbi and again between Hoteni and Breb and between Poienile Izei and Botiza.

So, I came to the conclusion that there are fewer horse and carts than before, because in all these days we hadn't managed to hitch a ride. Simon replied "You might be right, but mathematically we haven't got enough evidence to show that. And also, just because we have spent so long waiting for a horse and cart to come along already doesn't make it more likely that we will catch one today"

Ha! After a few minutes a man leading a horse and cart came out of his yard and started off in our direction. I called and asked him if he would wait for us. He replied that he was more than happy to give us a ride. He had his wife by his side and they were both going to the fields for hay.

In the centre of the village we stopped for two more women hitchhiking to Sieu. I am sure they were waiting for a car, but hey, a wagon will do! We had such a good laugh with the four of us squashed in the back of the cart!

Break the Rules!

After two days of strenuous walks a relaxing, visiting day is most welcome. In the first wooden church we went to, which is one of the eight in Maramures that have been designated Unesco heritage sites, the priest opened up for us. He is not usually very chatty, but today I asked him some questions and he seemed happy to answer them. We spoke about the rugs in the church and I realized how gentle and calm he is.

Simon asked if he knew what his t-shirt said. He had no idea, and I assumed it was probably a gift. I hadn't looked earlier, but we all started to laugh when I explained to him that it said "Break the Rules". Not a traditional message for a priest to give.

sâmbătă, 18 septembrie 2010

Walking in Maramures - Creasta Cocosului

The next day we climbed Gutai mountain otherwise known as “Creasta Cocosului” (The Rooster’s Crest). Ok, so, I have to be honest and say I didn’t climb to the absolute top of the rock. Being pregnant I thought it would be too much effort for me and I waited at the bottom. However, I taught Simon to say: “Imi faceti o poza, va rog” (Can I have a picture please!) to make sure he had a photo of himself on the top!
Anyway, climbing to the top is not as challenging as getting back home again. It is a long way just to Breb and for a couple of hours you can not even see the village. The blueberry season was almost gone (I found only a handful), the blackberries were all done and the hazelnuts trees were everywhere, but empty. I found 5 hazelnuts though which we very much enjoyed! This year was not a good season for hazelnuts again!
After 3 hours walking downhill towards Breb, we decided to be brave again and try a shortcut across to to our village, Hoteni. So, heading for the church spire we crossed over the fields and started our adventure. At the bottom of the valley I thought that there was a stream, but it turned out to be a river. Luckily, the stones in the river served us as bridge.
Again, the last hill before the village seemed the hardest and longest walk. Crossing un-mowed meadows, which were very difficult to walk through, we finally reached the mud road leadinging into the village.

luni, 23 august 2010

Walking in Maramures - Hoteni Circular walk

We started our first walk from our homestay accommodation and headed towards Breb. The first person we met was an 80 year old lady feeding the pig in her yard. We had been attracted by the green beans hanging above the pig house to dry. I am sure she didn’t understand why we took a picture of them! In a few minutes chat I found out that she is on her second marriage and followed this husband after he promised her land and fortune. But now he is sick in bed and she is looking after him. They have no children, but a niece is taking care of them.

I really enjoyed the walk as I took many shortcuts I have not done before. In Budesti, we took a back street between houses and gardens to avoid the tarmac road, and then later, in Sarbi, I wanted to take a shortcut over the hill avoiding Ocna Sugatag.Haiduc was following us (our host’s dog) and I want to keep him out of the road, as he seemed to tired to move out of the way of the cars!

At that time in the afternoon, there was nobody on the road in the village, so I made a visit to my old friends – the family of the hat maker. The hat maker sadly and suddenly passed away a few years ago, but I know the family very well. I found out that the son, Ionuc (that makes the father so proud in the past) is studying now in Germany. He has finished his first year and he will soon go back. He spoke fluent English with us and walked a while to show us the path. At least then we had a path. For the last bit I decided to go over the hill toward Hoteni, where we were stopping. Unfortunately, there is no path there and so we had to make our own.. Fortunately,, at this moment Haiduc seemed to wake up and lead us. He must have recognized where we were and decided to walk ahead of us to show us the way..

We passed through overgrown bushes, crossed a dry stream and slogged our way up an endless hill. That last hill before the village seemed the longest one: not steep, but very, very long.
We ended our walk in somebody’s garden and a very old lady was kneeling down to break a pile of walnuts. We came from behind her and she couldn’t see us. I said “Buna ziua!” (Good afternoon) and she replied: “Eu nu graiesc domneste!” (very hard to translate… but something like I don’t speak an upper class language). But we perfectly understand each other in good Romanian and I ask permission to pass her yard and to continue my way back home. Her expression stuck in my head and I had to ask Voichita what the lady meant to say. She thought that the old woman was worried that as she speaks only in the Maramures peasant language that I may not understand her!! I found that funny!

joi, 5 martie 2009


I remember very well when I sow Richard first time. I had arranged to meet him in the airport, a man who had been investigating the few traditional skills that has survived in U.K. He had been to Romania a couple of times before and had been fascinated by the way that traditional life seems to have survived in Romanian and he was anxious to delve a little deeper into Romanian villages. I had been advised that an interpreter will save him significant time and frustration. He felt that is so much more to learn if only he could understand the information, which the Romanian offered so freely in their own language.
I expected in the airport a man carrying a backpack, ready to climb (scale) the hills and mountains to discover the remote Romanian villages and isolated crafts people. However, much to my concern, the man who cautiously acknowledged my hand written attendance placard was wearing a smart blue business man suit, a pristine white shirt and neck tie!
He nervously explained the purpose of the trip in a hesitant manner. I discovered later that originally Richard had assumed that his interpreter was going to be a mature academic and was initially rather alarmed at the sight of a pretty young lady. “This girl has no knowledge, understanding or interest of the purpose of my visit and any initial enthusiasm she may have will quickly disappear after a couple of false starts.” After all, people that Richard is interested in are not on the tourist route and they are frequently hidden away in the least obvious and sometimes inaccessible locations.
Some of the most fascinating and skilled people we met have been quietly continuing their skills for many generations, providing an invaluable service to village life and their appear never to be acknowledged and frequently we found that this was the last generation to make or repair goods only for the village needs.
Some were initially surprised at our curiosity, most of them quickly realized that we had a totally genuine interest in their skills, their products and their traditions. Without fail we always come away having increased our knowledge and were further uplifted by their generosity and hospitality. “So often we interrupt a busy and hard working craftsmen’s day but always feel humble by their unfailing generosity and hospitality”.
The first visit was obviously a success in so much this winter Richard had returned to Romania the sixth time and we still manage to find different aspects of traditional skills and culture.
Over the last few years we have researched the traditional use of various type of wood and in particular cooperage skills. In fact this is one of Richard’s specialties: “I photographed coopers in many parts of the world, but always feels that the Romanian coopers are the most traditional ones.”
Another one of Richard’s special interest is the brick industry and hand made kiln dried and sun dried bricks are still made in Romania today in much the some way as the Egyptians made them over 6000 years ago.
On the subject of clay some claiers are suitable for pottery. It was a great joy on our last trip to find a few of the rural potters producing domestic ware in the old localized tradition of designs and forms that had been in their family for many generations – again not tourist goods but sold at the village markets at very modest prices for the local villagers.
We discovered the techniques of straw hat making in the north, thatching with Romanian reed down in the Danube Delta, we found one of the last wooden boat builders.
Regarding to Romanian females skills, their spinning techniques have not changed since earliest times and Romanian women are always busy and therefore at is not a common sight in rural area to find women spinning on the move. Perhaps while attending cattle or simply walking to the wheel or to the village shop. Romanian women plays a significant role, often caring out hard physical task such as lady blacksmith we found who thought nothing of wilding a 3 kg blacksmith hammer or the wheelwrights wife who again helped shrink on the red hot metal tires for the ox or horse-drown farm carts.
In addition Romanian women always produce irresistible wholesome gourmet meals at the drop of the hat. One of our favor is been the blueberry ice-cream in the Apuseni mountains.
We have sampled various potencies of home made distilled plum brandy from north to south, east to west and find ourselves “connoisseurs” of this rural fire water.
Because our trips are frustratingly unplanned, accommodation can be unpredictable. Great variety of accommodation: from former communist hotels with dodgy lifts to humble country farm cottages to the ostentatious lures pink houses that we tried desperately to avoid, to the monasteries. In fact, Richard favored accommodation was the austere cell in an Oltenian monastery. After a long day and being unsuccessful in finding suitable accommodation come across the monastery late in the evening. The nuns kindly opened the richly carved gates and thankfully agreed to provide hospitability, together with a surprisingly rather simple, but much welcomed meal.
We are sometimes dependent upon local help in locating our craftsmen. This is not without certain problems we have frequently encounted villages with over helpful advice who seemed to have consumed far to much brandy, even before 9 o’clock in the morning. It took all my experience as a guide to ease the drunkard out of the car.
Over the years we had magic moments as: popping with Eric Clapton along the Danube, chatting with ladies in Vrancea region village, giggly at the sight of the strangers, playing with an 80 years old musician who had invented a bizarre metal trumpet-violin or enduring below freezing temperatures and cutting through the ice on a mission to find reed cutters and traditional fishermen on the Danube Delta. Every time Richard return he says this will be last time. We really have covered Romania, but he never surprise me when after just few months later I receive a phone call saying: “Oh, I hope to be visiting Romania in a few weeks time. I wonder if you are going to be free"?

P.S. I had just received such a call from him and he is coming to research Romania in March time.

miercuri, 4 martie 2009


We were following the little used backroads of Transylvania, lost somewhere in the middle of Romania. And when I say little used roads, I’m not lying a bit.
I was the guide and interpreter, leading two Dutch tourists, to discover the unspoiled Saxon villages of Transylvania.

Not only was I driving but I also had to find my way along the narrow roads, winding their way up and down hills, with no trace of any signs. Every crossroad looked the same as the last one, and I needed all my powers of intuition to make progress.
We were somewhere between Fagaras and Sighisoara, trying to head for our overnight accommodation with village families in Soars. Everywhere we saw endless hay meadows. The smell of wild flowers mixed with acacia and elderflower was coming through the car’s open window, and from time to time, from miles away, we could see, perched on the hills, villages with their fortified churches.
The Saxons came to South-East Transylvania in the 13th century, invited there by King Geza II. In exchange for free land and low taxes, they were to defend the Transylvanian border against the aggressive waves of migration. But the biggest enemy during that time became the Ottoman Empire, which threatened at Europe’s gates.
The Saxons built strong fortified churches. In case of attack they withdrew inside the walls. That is why they always kept the village supplies (pig fat, corn, wheat and so on) within the church's towers.
History was not kind to the Saxons in this part of the world. After centuries of fighting with Turks and Tartars, there followed the deportation to Siberia at the end of the World War, and then the hard times of the Communist regime.
It was with tears in her eyes that Sara Dotz, a Saxon lady who holds the key to the church at Viscri, told us, "We survived 800 years here. We survived wars and we survived the communists. But now the Saxons have left their culture and their homes. They went back to Germany, hoping for a better life."
When we passed the village of Rodbav it was almost sunset. The cows were returning from the pasture, walking lazily in front of the car and then waiting by the gate for someone to come and open it for them. We decided to stop to admire the cow parade.
We cast our eyes up to the church on top of the hill. It seemed empty and ruined. Why not to be adventurous and visit it, we asked ourselves. It’s quite an adventure to visit some of these Saxon churches. Because there aren’t many Saxons left, they tend not to be used anymore, so usually these 14th-15th centuries masterpieces are empty and in an increasing state of decay. Also, to visit you need to find the person who can open up the place.
So we embarked on our challenge to find the key-holder of Rodbav church. Remember that we were in a quiet, remote village, where cars rarely pass and where nothing unusual happens. Suddenly two West European looking guys and a Romanian girl who from time to time speaks a peculiar language with them, start to walk around the village and to ask about the church key. But the villagers were extremely happy to help us, smiling all the time.
We finally found the appropriate lady, and she was delighted to see people who were interested in her church. She quickly prepared herself for the visit, changing into what she called "proper clothes". First, she had guests; second, she’d be going to the church. So it was improper to wear one’s day-to-day work clothes.
Slowly we climbed the hill together, making a path through the tall, unmowed grass while listening to the lovely village stories from our new friend.
A big iron key opened the church door. I was translating the lady’s stories about the village and the church, and then Cron said something in German. Her eyes started to smile and her whole face lit up. I instantly became lost and useless. They started to speak German, a language unfamiliar for me but used day to day by the old Saxon families. She was so happy to have the chance to speak German with somebody that she just couldn't stop smiling.
I’ll always remember that face.
Now it was me the guide who needed translation, and I kept asking what she was saying. At least in the end I was able to say to her, "Auf Wiedersen!"