Tuesday, 5 March 2013
Day 290 – Goulash and Gypsies. (Romania)
I’m not really sure why, maybe just because we were in such good humour, but we decided to reward ourselves with a night of nice accommodation in the border town of Oradea. As I say it was probably just because we were really relaxed and happy, but our excuse was that it had been a successful border crossing (Blog Day 288– There’s a first for everything), we’d worked hard on the tyre the last couple of days (Blog Day 289 –Threatening to spontaneously combust), and by staying in a town maybe we’d have a better chance of finding new tyres in the morning. It wasn’t an overly exciting town, but we did find a delightful American style burger joint which sported the somewhat comical name “LactoBar”. Yes of course it just means milk bar, but between the name and the ridiculous logo of a jovial cow with long eye lashes and a cheeky grin, we were intrigued by the establishment. As it turns out, although their desserts were scrumptious, and their selection of beer cocktails was fantastically inventive, they weren’t so good at burgers. We did enjoy the booth made out of a retro American convertible and the wall of world beers comprised of shelves and shelves of hundreds of bottles of beers and a world map with pointers to the origins of each bottle.
We continued on with our tyre saga the following day as we crossed the Transylvanian countryside. The area of Transylvania is renowned for its spectacular mountains and gorgeous medieval towns and villages, so we chose a route that would take us through two of the three most notable towns, whilst taking us through a wide slice of the region as we headed south towards Bucharest.
A few of the small towns that we passed through were full of magnificent houses that caught our attention. Not only were they huge and extravagant, but they seemed to be mostly empty and often unfinished. The outsides were garish, with the walls painted in dazzlingly bright colours, shiny pointed roofs and sparkling trimmings, yet the insides were left confusingly gray and bare. It wasn’t until we were in Moldova a couple of weeks later that we discovered that these were gypsy houses, and suddenly the bizarre buildings made sense. It is very important to them that the facades are vibrant and glamorous, but they only live simply in one room often, sometimes with a dozen people, leaving the rest of the house empty and incomplete.
As I’m sure you can all imagine, we have driven on some pretty varied roads: everything from 8-lane motorways to narrow dirt tracks, mountain passes to desert trails, routes that haven’t seen a car in the last 5 years (if ever) to hectic traffic in high-density cities. In all of these experiences though, we have never come across an on-ramp that was as astonishing as the one that flabbergasted us on our way to Sigishoara. There we were driving along one of Transylvania’s main roads (the roads are fine – nothing to write home about but they do the job – one lane in each direction, well sealed, and sufficiently signposted), approaching a turn off to another main road, when we found the on-ramp to end all on-ramps. The turn was essentially a right-hand one – we had been heading due East, and we were going to be turning to head due South – but first we had to take an off-ramp that took us onto a bridge which crossed the road we had just come from. We then ended up back on the first road for a few metres, heading in the opposite direction, until the next off-ramp which did a 360° and landed us on the next ramp which directed us onto a small road that connected the road we were originally on to the road we were trying to get onto. From there we were faced with another 360° on/off-ramp which took us over a small bridge and eventually onto the road which faced due South. The hilarious thing about this on/off-ramp network was that neither of these roads was even particularly huge or busy. A set of traffic lights, or at most a simple slip lane would have more than sufficed. Sadly we didn’t realise how incredible the experience would be until it was already passed so we didn’t take a single photo or video of the unique road/bridge/ramp layout.
We had had some very cold weather in Macedonia and Kosovo (-10°C and -15°C and so on), but for the past couple of weeks it had actually been reasonably mild (around 0°C, sometimes higher). Driving through Romania though we remembered what -°C felt like and we had some of our very coldest days (possibly ever in our lives) in the days we spent between Prague and Bucharest. We were generally pretty brave with camping, having no qualms about pitching a tent in or near snow and frost, as we had done plenty of times before, but with sleeping bags that aren’t really suitable for lower than 10°C, camping in -25°C each night was becoming a bit exhausting. If we’d realised how cold Romania was going to be we wouldn’t have stayed unnecessarily in accommodation in Oradea, but regardless we looked for accommodation when we arrived in the beautiful town of Sigishoara.
Sigishoara, Sibiu and Brasov are the most notable towns in Transylvania, each one demonstrating a slightly different aspect of the rich culture and history that encompasses the region. An abundance of castles, fortresses and churches are dotted all over Transylvania and the famous Carpathian Mountains, and the two very different cultures of the Saxons and the Romas is evident all over this incredibly exciting place. As we didn’t have an infinite amount of time to spend frolicking in the Romanian countryside, we chose Sigishoara and Sibiu to stop at, leaving Brasov for another trip (which will certainly happen – Romania is one of the countries we are most adamant about re-visiting).
Sigishoara is a beautiful example of a walled Saxon city, now UNESCO World Heritage Listed, and made famous for being the birthplace of Vlad Dracul (Dracula). The walled old town is particularly haunting. I can’t quite put my finger on why it was that way, maybe just because it was so deserted, but there was something about Sigishoara that was different to the usual UNESCO World Heritage Listed old towns, of which we have seen so many. Outside the city walls we got a feel for the way the Roma and the Saxon styles have mixed in many ways. A lot of the architecture was quite clearly of Saxon influence, yet the pastel walls and little sections of glitzy trim drew your attention. We stayed at a lovely guesthouse run by all three generations of a very hospitable but non-interfering family who we were extremely grateful to the following day, but I will get to that in the next blog. For dinner we found a restaurant called “Transylvanian Restaurant” where we ate Transylvanian goulash with maize porridge and other examples of “traditional Romanian cuisine”.