Sunday, 6 June 2010

That's more like it

Written 3rd June

So, having been disappointed in our search for vampires and 'scary' Transylvania - although you're right, I don't really know what else I expected really - we set off instead in search of Saxons and rural Romania, and in this, we were much more successful.  And the sun shone again too - hurrah!

We headed north first, through the increasingly undulating landscape to Sighisoara,

stopping en route to fill up with water from a spring where we found this stall with its uniquely appealing wares - I mean, middle of nowhere, of course this is what you're going to realise has been missing from your life for all these years...

Sighisoara (Schassburg in German and Segesvar in Hungarian) is a mediaeval citadel town dating from 13th-14th centuries by which time the whole of Transylvania was part of the Hungarian empire.  It is (yet another) UNESCO listed place and also stakes claim to being the birth place of Vlad 'Tepes' Dracula.  

We somehow managed to visit it backwards, starting by climbing the hill at the back of town, through the german cemetery to the gothic Church on the Hill,

down the covered stairway

to the brightly coloured houses

and typical streets surrounding the two main squares. 

And so to Dracula's house - where they appreciate the marketing opportunities of some well placed tat! -

and the 13th century clock tower which stands above the main city gate.  

We climbed the tower, through the fairly interesting history museum (no photos allowed) with its model of 17th century Sighisoara  and various old tools and instruments from the towns doctors and trades guilds,

to the top for views down over the ancient and less ancient rooftops and the fascinating clock mechanism and wooden figures representing the days of the week and morning and afternoon which rotate as appropriate into the arched windows. 

Apparently the 75-year-old man whose charge it is to look after it is concerned that he has no apprentice - it's a shame we live quite so far away as I think Will would jump at the chance... :)

Onwards again then, past these oddly strung up crops, in search of Saxon villages and fortified churches.  The lp describes the triangle of land between Brasov, Sighisoara and Sibiu as "an area loaded with undulating hills and cinematic villages ... some sitting at the ends of rather nasty dirt roads ... Even just a kilometre off the main highway you'll find a world where horse carriages and walking are generally the only ways anyone gets around and where a car - any car - gets stares."  nasty dirt tracks where people stare at cars?  Bring it on! We'll give 'em something to stare at... ;)

In the event, the roads weren't so bad - we drove round much, much worse round the Ring of Kerry in Ireland! -  and people didn't stare at us any more than usual, and those that did mostly smiled and waved.  Lots of people do that here in fact, in our first couple of days we had whole bar terraces full of beer drinking lads standing up and cheering as we went past, and small children falling over in uncontrollable fits of giggling - it's all rather nice :)

The villages were pretty, full of brightly coloured houses. 

There were horse drawn carts

some overflowing with hay like something straight out of a Constable painting, people working in the fields with hoes and scythes, or walking down the road with these vicious looking tools slung casually over their shoulders

and the occasional herd of cows in the road, wells consisting of a bucket suspended on a chain from a long wooden dipping lever and even, in one village, a stork perched on its big nest on top of a telegraph pole.

This is more like it!

We went first to Malancrav, in search of a 14th century fortified church with some well preserved gothic mural paintings.  The village was easily found, the church less so - I got to practise some GCSE german on the way "gerarde aus und den links.  Mit dem auto oder am fuss?" (sorry, can just about say it, can't spell it!)

- but once we did find it, it did indeed have good murals,

an opening altarpiece and was very nicely presented with explanations and history in several languages. 

It is still an functioning church and in someways was just like being inside a proper old CofE church back home, individual hand made pew cushions and hymn numbers just like ours, it even smelt a bit like the church in our village - a faint scent of flowers, polish, dust and stone.

And on to Biertan, one of the most famous, where we were too late for that evening, so settled into a nice meadowside layby for the night to be awoken this morning by the sound of horse drawn carts clip-clopping past us and up the dirt track. 

This is definitely more like it.

Set on a slight hill over looking the town, the church at Biertan was, for 300 years, the residence of the Bishop of the Lutheran Church of Transylvania. 

It is bigger and more fortified than Malancrav, with towers

and a covered stairway leading up to it,

although with fewer murals, the inside is elegant in its simplicity,

with another opening altarpiece

and fancy pulpit 

It also has the most complicated lock/bolts contraption on the vestry door - the bish must have had some fancy stuff to store!

Saxon churches: done

We had more recommendations from the tourist office lady at Sighisoara for other saxon churches worth seeing  at Avente Sever, Slimnic and Carta, but we have decided that you can have too much of a good thing and are instead heading south to mountains and hopefully roads across them...

Lets see what we find...

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