Monday, 7 June 2010

Last minute detour

Written 5th june

Known as Hermannstadt to the Saxon colonists and first mentioned in 1223, Sibiu was the seat of the Austrian governors in Transylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries and was the third city in the Austrian-Hungarian empire to have electric lighting and the second to have electric trams in the early 20th century.  Today it is the capital of Transylvania and was designated a European Capital of Culture in 2007 and is jolly pretty for a stroll round in the sunshine.

We found the Piata Mare (big square),

the Piata Mica (small square), the Evangelical Church in the Piata Huet,

the Upper and Lower towns, the Orthadox Church

(apparently an accurate smaller copy of the St Sofia church in Istanbula with a fascinatingly decorated interior and a seemingly never ending line of the devout of all ages, queuing to shuffle past and kiss various pictures and then file past a line of seven or eight priests who would each swab their hands and foreheads in cotton buds dipped in holy water which we think came from a big 2m high urn with 12 taps round the bottom - well you don't want their to be a queue or a shortage of holy water!),

through the typical streets, with houses with 'eyes' which are particular to this town, 

past the towers of the old fortifications,

and, from the sublime to the ridiculous, a gaggle of  of whistle blowing, placard toting pensioners (not sure what they were upset about, Will thought he read the word genocide whereas I though I read something about pensioner society or association - presumably it is not the Pro-Genocide Pensioner's Society so it must be about provision, or lack thereof, of state funded retirement or some such thing.) to this car.  It makes you wonder just what effect their 'lifetime guaranty' has on your lifetime... ;)

The plan from here, had been to say, Romania: done.  and head straight for the boarder at Oradea, 320kms west, but en route, I found a whole section of the lp about the Maramures, which I had unaccountably missed and which talked about picturesque peasant villages, wooden churches and painted cemeteries, and it wasn't so very far out of our way - ok it was but petrol is cheap, we had currency left to use up, one whole day left on our Romania car tax, and more importantly, I had the map... - so we turned north instead.

The drive was largely dull and uneventful - although at one point we got overtaken by an italian hearse of all things, it seems that even dead italians don't hang around on the roads! -

and with the weather worsening, especially just as we were getting to the pretty, rural, haystack scattered landscape,

with houses with tin roofs, I was beginning to wonder if we had done the right thing when reached our destination and parked up for the night in Moisei.

We celebrated our last night in Romania with the last of our Bulgarian Melnik red - it didn't explode! - which has aged rather well in the bottle - or decanter I suppose you should call it once it has been opened - it has lost is sparkle but has developed deeper red fruit flavours with complex leather undertones... Get me ;)

And the sun was shining again this morning as we headed on out.

Moisei is a small town on the junction of the 16 with the 17C, which would be barely noteworthy, if it wasn't for a single act of wartime atrocity in October 1944.  With the occupying Hungarians losing and the front line approaching the village, the villagers were evacuated and many men from the locally sourced forced labour detachments deserted. 

The hungarians organised a man-hunt to track them down and rounded up 31 of them, whom they kept in a prison in a nearby town before bringing them to this house in the village, locking them in and shooting them through the windows.  They then burned down the entire village, with only this building remaining untouched.  Only two of the 31 survived and the house is now a little two room museum dedicated to those who died,

and there is a memorial across the road with 12 columns symbolising light, two of which symbolise the two survivors. 

Onwards then and deep into the Valea Izei, and its string of quintessential peasant villages.

The lp describes the Maramures region as "one of the last places where rural European mediaeval life remains intact, where peasants life off the land as countless generations did before them ... [which has]... inconceivably flown under the radar during the collectivism of the 1940's, systemisation of the 1980's and the westernisation of the 1990's" 

hmmm, well they may have escaped communism and still live off the land

but telephones (both land lines and mobiles), satellite tv, sparkly sequined tops and roller blades haven't passed them by... 

But they were all very picturesque nonetheless.  Picture's I wish I could have taken:
1) rounding the corner in one village to find the market in full swing - vegetables spread on mats by the side of the road and tables with big wheels of cheese.
2) wizened little old peasant lady, no more than 5ft tall, dressed in full on headscarf and peasants garb, standing chatting to someone with  6ft scythe over her shoulder, the blade almost curving back down to her calves.  Even better, she was standing next to a red truck, so from one angle the shiny blade reflected red like dripping blood...
3) another peasant lady, more hunched than the first, stuffed, overflowing basket of hay on her back nearly as big as she was.

In the market town, a couple of such old ladies (minus scythe or hay) were looking for a lift, the first one we hadn't worked out where we were going and by the second, Will had decided the back wasn't tidy enough (it was) and by the time we had sorted both those things out, there were no more people looking for a lift.  I so wanted a picture of a bemused peasant in my van, as well as, obviously, the satisfaction of helping someone out of course... ;)  hitching is a very viable, common way of getting round here, you see people in most villages.  We've picked up two separate pairs of teenage boys so far and nearly an old lady elsewhere except we couldn't work out where she wanted to go so she decided to wait.  Its all very civilized.  They wave, you stop, they get in, you all mutually ignore each other, you stop where you think they want to be, they stuff a couple of lei into your hands and go on their way.  Easy. 

Anyway, we did find villages with typical wooden houses and the carved typical wooden gates which front them - this is obviously a church gate

but the houses had the same thing -

and wooden churches

with beautifully overgrown cemeteries,

and modern churches, most with more pointy, silver spires than this one,

but all with bright murals.

We stopped in Ieud to see the oldest wooden church in the Maramures

built in the 14th century

(and only restored twice - just goes to show how well it was built)

and in Rozavlea to see the wooden church there which was built in 1717 in another village and moved - not sure why, some tradition, just have visions of the villagers sending out scouting parties, sneaking out one night en masse to steal the best one, and then humming nochalently in the morning "what, this old thing? Been here for ages.  Didn't you notice it before?".

And on to Barsana Monastery - a fine sight

but we think newly built buildings  on the sight of an old monastery which was converted to greek orthadox by the ottomans and then shut down after the turks were expelled.  But they might be original. 

Eitherway, jolly pretty.

And then on to the real reason for this 100km or so detour (I have no spatial awareness, especially at this scale, all I know is the kms are smaller than miles so I just take a bit off the number and assume its not very far... and then forget we have an average speed of 40mph on most small roads...), the Merry Cemetery at Sapanta. 

The cemetery is unique in europe (I believe) for its carved and brightly painted crosses. 

Begun in 1935 they were originally the work of one man, a self taught craftsman, who wanted to create memorials which set aside the dark and sad aspects of death and instead celebrated the person's life.  The crosses are all blue, to signify the sky to which the soul rises after death, and the pictures show the person at a significant or memorable time in their life.   Beneath the pictures, simple folk rhymes tell amusing or ironic anecdotes from their lives, written in the first person.  I think we missed a lot by not being able to read Romanian but it is an amazing place nonetheless. 

The pictures range from simple, rustic occupations,

to more modern ones,

to those who clearly embraced new technology when it came along,

to some we just couldn't work out what they were trying to say...

I am so glad we came though, it was definitely worth the detour.  Haven't seen anything like this anywhere else!

We left when the third coach load arrived and have settled in by the side of the road for a quick spot of fettling in preparation for the long straight-ish drive ahead.  Will has a new plan (yes another one!) whereby we use the two maps we have (rich and lean) for each bucket and use them as boundaries so the 'project' will then use the reading from the lamda sensor to work out the required fuel level within those two pre-defined boundaries.  Once the map is properly sorted, he'll connect the throttle instead of the lamda (remembering that we can only have two inputs to the 'project' as it stands and one has to be the airflow sensor) and set the 'project' to control the fuelling for each 'bucket' (arbitrary unit) of airflow on the assumption that because we have an airleak after the airflow sensor, at WOT we need less fuel going in for each bucket than for a partially open throttle... See I knew you were still with me...

We have to leave the country by midnight as that's when our road tax runs out and honestly that's not a moment too soon - not because we don't like it here, quite the contrary - because Will has started musing out loud about an lpg conversion, given that a) it would presumably be cheaper here, b) we have a lot of miles left to cover, c) lpg has been consistently half the price of petrol in every country so far and d) how quickly it would therefore pay for itself....  He's talked me through what would need to be done and we would obviously stay dual fuelled so we still had the option of switching to petrol, and the worrying thing is how dangerously convincing he is...  It is only the fact that he wouldn't know where to start in finding a garage or how to communicate with them once he found one - afterall, it is a bit more complicated than a new exhaust pipe! - that's stopping him... 


Oh, some frontier police have just pulled up on a quad bike...  Back in a bit...

<  short law break  >

Turned out to be fine, they were quite nice actually.  Will asked if there was a problem, they asked if we were planning on crossing the border, Will asked where the border was, they said, behind that hedge, 10m that way...  It is the ukranian border so no car insurance (and Jules can't swim) and they just took our passport numbers, asked where we were headed and suggested we didn't sleep where we were stopped - they asked when we were going back to the UK, I think they expected some sort of, monday or next week answer, not September :)

So, that's the Ukraine then. There you go

But time is getting on and we need to get to the border 60kms away by midnight, so, as the sun sets on our Romanian adventure, we are back on the road, heading west.  

We just have to cook dinner, post Will's romanian stamped postcard to Grandma and find some sensible way of using our last 45 lei - how hard can that be at 10pm on a sunday night...

Next up, a hop, skip and a jump across Hungary.

No comments:

Post a Comment