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Trip Report A Daughter’s Tribute to her Father: Our Heritage Trip to Romania

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Exactly one year ago my brother, my father, and I traveled to Romania. Our journey was in honor of my father’s 80th birthday, and coincided with the 100th anniversary of the date his father left Romania to come to America.

It was my father’s third visit to the country. He and my mother had connected with his Romanian relatives and visited back in 1979, when Romania was still firmly under communism. In 2001 my brother Mark, his wife and their then-5-year-old daughter accompanied my father for a return visit.

I was not able to join the 2001 trip, and I knew I would have regrets if I never got a chance to go with Dad. Since I was sending my last child away to college and would be free to travel, I proposed to my father that we go. When Mark heard of the trip he jumped at the chance to join us. We have another brother and a sister who were not able to come.

As it turns out, the decision to take the trip was providential. The three of us had a fabulous time, seeing relatives and sightseeing. Unbeknown to all of us, my father was harboring a brain tumor. We returned on October 2, and exactly three months later he died. This was all a huge shock to us, but we were left with a sense of profound gratitude for the magical time that we had spent together for the 12 days of this trip.

As a gift to my father before his death, I prepared a book of our trip, using www.blurb.com. I incorporated my journal entries and many of our 3700 photos, and the resulting book was well over 200 pages long. I am in the middle of a re-edit of the book, which I intend to finish for our relatives by Christmas this year.

Although I had hoped to post a timely Fodor’s trip report upon our return, all of the events of the past year prevented me. My journal is long and detailed, and I’d hoped to make it more concise. I’m sure part of the reason I’ve delayed is because of the emotional intensity connected with the memories of this trip.

It’s now been one full year since we traveled, however, and I’ve decided that I will post an adaptation of my journal as a tribute to my father. At some point in the future I may post a shorter outline style report of lodgings, restaurants, and sites, and I’ll put the link here. For now, it will be the long form. I don’t know how many people will follow the journey with me, but I believe it will be healing for me to post it.

I will try to include a link to relevant photos with each installment.

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    Thank you for posting this! I can fully understand why there's been a delay. I'm glad your father was able to return before he died. I'm looking forward to hearing more about Romania.

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    Thanks for posting. I'm so sorry your father passed away.

    I'm hoping to visit Romania next year, as I've been learning the language for 3 years now, so will be very interested to hear about your journey.

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    noe847 - I am so glad you and your brother got to travel back to Romania with your father. I am sorry for your loss.

    I intend to follow your journey and hope it brings you healing.

    Sandy

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    noe847,

    I'm so sorry to hear of the loss of your father and also so awed that your timing permitted such a wonderful trip with the ensuing memories.

    I do hope that completing this tribute to your father will prove a gold mine of revived memories including some that had slipped away. And I also hope that it does prove a comfort and will be a healing process for you.

    My best wishes for you. I'll be reading every word.

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    Thanks everyone, for the kind messages. hanl, that is very cool that you are learning Romanian. My 25 words got me only so far!

    I'll start with some background info and then get on with the practicalities of the trip. The photos from the early part of the trip are not plentiful or very good in quality, but once we start exploring Transylvania there will be lots and lots more.

    A bit of background

    My grandfather Victor was born in a village in Transylvania where his father was pastor of a small Greco Catholic church. He had three brothers, two of whom became priests like their father (In the Greco Catholic Church, as in many Eastern churches under Rome, married men are able to become priests), and three younger sisters.

    Victor trained as a tailor in Germany. He sewed dresses for his little sisters Cornelia, Aurelia and Victoria. In 1906, my grandfather decided to leave for America, in part to avoid the army and in part for a better life, and he insisted that a family photograph be taken before he departed. In the picture, all three girls are wearing the dresses that Victor made for them. As in every picture we have of him in the early 1900’s, Victor is proudly displaying his gold watch and fob. Copies of the picture were made for each of the original family members. Here is a link the “The Photo” as we all call it:
    share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8DZsmzZuzbnU

    Victor began his voyage to America by traveling to Germany, where he arranged passage on a ship. Our Romanian relatives told us that he was robbed while in Germany and his traveling companion was killed. His father had to send him money - an equivalent amount to a half year's salary – before he could continue with his journey.

    At the time of his departure, Romania was not an independent country. Victor always said that he was from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and he spoke German. Over the course of his decades in America, Victor seemingly lost touch with his family.

    It was not until he reached adulthood that my father learned that his heritage was Romanian. My aunt in California met someone who recognized their unusual surname and put her in touch with the ancestral village in Romania. As a result my grandfather was able to regain contact with his family late in his life. Interestingly, his older brother Leonte died the same day as Victor, around 70 years after they had last seen each other.

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    Thursday, September 21- Friday, September 22
    ATL to Bucharest via CDG (Hotel Rembrandt)

    Saturday, September 23
    Bucharest to Fagaras via train (Hotel Montana – 2 nights)

    Sunday, September 24
    family events in Fagaras and Dridif

    Monday, September 25
    Fagaras to Sighisoara (Hotel Sighisoara)
    meet guide,
    driving route through Saxon Southern Transylvania:
    -Cincsor
    -Cincu
    -Merghindeal
    -Dealu Frumos
    -Agnita
    -Alma Vii
    -Biertan

    Tuesday, September 26
    Sighisoara to Maramures, sleep at Badu Izei (home stay)
    -Bistrita
    -Salistea de Sus
    -Ieud
    -Barsana

    Wednesday, September 27
    Maramures to Cluj-Napoca (Hotel Onix)
    -Sapanta
    -Sighet
    -Surdesti

    Thursday, September 28
    Cluj-Napoca to Sibiu (Hotel Imparatul Romanilor)
    -Alba Iulia
    -Rasinari

    Friday, September 29
    Sibiu to Brasov (Aro Palace Hotel)
    -Carta
    -Rasnov
    -Bran

    Saturday, September 30
    Brasov to Bucharest (Hotel Rembrandt – 2 nights)
    -Prejmer
    -Harman
    leave guide in Bucharest

    Sunday, October 1
    Bucharest

    Monday, October 2
    Bucharest to ATL via CDG

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    I'm having trouble with the "preview my reply" function so I hope this doesn't double or triple post!

    Preparation

    In the opinion of some members of our family, we planned endlessly. We had lunch meetings and weekend meetings to discuss various aspects of the trip. And yet, there was always more to do. I didn’t get to read much about the background history of Romania until after I returned from the trip!

    We split up responsibility for the major planning. My father kept busy connecting with relatives in Romania and planning two get-togethers: one in Transylvania, one in Bucharest. He also prepared useful pocket sized charts: of the family tree (so we would know who everybody was), temperature conversion, money conversion (new Romanian, old Romanian, US$ and Eur€), distance and weight conversions.

    My brother did a lot of research on the particular destinations and Romanian craft items he was interesting in tracking down, researched camera film, and reprinted pictures from the trip 5 years ago (to give all the relatives when we saw them), researched books, including a cool book about the Saxon fortified churches that we got through inter-library loan. He also consulted with a friend from Romania with particular questions about the trip.

    I bought the plane tickets, arranged lodging in Bucharest, found and coordinated with the driver/guide, helped with destination research (especially Maramures and the Saxon fortified churches), ordered the film, ordered the maps, researched and ordered the components for our international cell phone, and put together a book (shutterfly.com) with pictures of all of our family members that we could show to our relatives (this was a big hit), and, of course, logged onto Fodor’s for trip reports and to ask questions. My trip planning thread is:
    http://fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=2&tid=34832950

    The biggest glitch we faced: By the time we were 17 days away from leaving, all 3 of us had the wrong dates for the trip! I was on a 2 day drive back from taking my youngest daughter to college, and on the phone Mark convinced me that we were leaving on September 28 rather than the 21st, which is what I was remembering. I didn’t have my calendar or computer with me, so I got really confused. After I got home, I checked the plane tickets and was able to straighten everyone out. I don’t know how long my brother and father had been mistaken. Conflicting dates had been given to relatives, and my brother had requested the wrong vacation dates at work, but we got it all sorted.

    I was concerned about the 105 minute connection at CDG, and having to go from 2E to 2B. The week of the trip we began tracking the on time record for the first flight. Seeing that it was typically arriving 45 to 60 minutes late, Mark suggested that we change our tickets to an earlier flight, which I did the day before our trip, giving us a 3 ½ hour connection and a little peace of mind.

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    I am trying to post some sections of this report, the ones with general travel information, in a color. Not being HTML adept, I cannot seem to get the color to preview although I am trying to follow the instructions exactly. So, if this posts with commands instead of showing the color, I apologize and will give up on the color idea.

    <font color=”olive”>A word about maps
    Since we hired a guide to do the driving, we didn’t actually need a map for navigating our way around the country, but I do make extensive use of maps in planning (and like to follow along as a passenger.) We devised a very specific plan for our day of seeing Saxon churches in Southern Transylvania. I was also able to suggest/request a particular route for our drive up to Maramures, which worked out well.

    We had a Romania road map, by Amco, at 1:850,000 scale, from the 2001 trip. I went online and ordered a street map of Bucharest and two different road maps of Transylvania. One of the Transylvania maps never arrived. We ended up with the Dimap-Szarvas map of Transylvania, which is a 1:400,000 scale. This map was amazing in the amount of detail – it showed all the villages and was topographical. I brought it to Kinko’s and enlarged specific sections (Southern Transylvania, Maramures) for more detailed planning (I was surprised to find that Maramures is actually a part of Transylvania). I was able to leave copies of the map, with our route highlighted, with the family members who remained at home.

    When we met our guide, he provided us with a Huber-Niculescu map of Romania, which is a 1:600,000 scale, and much better than the Amco map. It is only in Romanian, but I don’t view that as a problem, since the road signs are in Romanian as well. The driver had a nice compact spiral book map of Romania with tons of detail. He offered to help me purchase one, but I forgot to follow up on that.

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    Packing

    We each carried a 21” expandable rolling suitcase (which we put in checked baggage) and a small carry on bag. Inside the suitcases, we each had a spare folded duffel to fill and check for the return flight and a few empty tote bags so that we could divide our things when we got to the car portion of the trip. This system worked very well for us.

    The gear we brought:

    -Unlocked Motorola Razor quad band phone, with a United Mobile SIM card (a Liechtenstein cell number) and an account with callbackworld.com, which provided us with the ability to call home at 14¢/minute, and also gave us an 800 number that family members at home could use to reach our phone (also at 14¢/minute). Some of our family had good international phone plans and could call directly to our Liechtenstein cell number for around 10¢/minute. This all came in very handy when a financial/legal situation arose at home that took lots of our time on the phone each evening. BIG thanks to Fodorite xyz123 for the detailed cell phone help.

    -Tape recorder and a few cassette tapes for interviewing relatives. We decided against bringing my old videocam, as it isn’t digital, and also decided not to purchase a digital videocam. Would have been nice to have, however.

    -Canon Rebel 2000 SLR film camera, with 28-105 and 75-300 lenses, and 28 rolls of 36 exposure professional grade Kodak film (had to purchase more film on the trip – we used an additional 10 rolls of 36 exposures). I kept the film in a large lead bag and was very surprised that in all of the many security screenings the lead bag was never pulled out of my carry on bag for additional searching. I mean, for all they knew I could have had anything in there.

    -We each brought point and shoot digital cameras, and enough memory cards that we could get by without downloading our photos.

    We always had the film SLR camera and one digital camera going concurrently. Mark and I took turns with the film camera – it is so much fun to shoot with it.

    I seriously thought about bringing my laptop computer but it is very big and heavy. We were able to rent a laptop at the Bucharest hotel, and we could use computers in the lobby at many of the other hotels to upload our photos.

    A word about online photo/blog resources
    For years we have used shutterfly.com for uploading our photos. We can share links to our photos, make very nice books and calendars of our photos, and we have been pleased with the quality and prices of prints. We were able to do an online photo share with friends and family while we were still on the road.

    Mark loaded names and mailing addresses onto cardshop.com so that we could send postcards from the trip. The way it worked: we uploaded a travel picture from the hotel computer, wrote a greeting online, select the recipients, and cardshop made a postcard from our picture, with our greeting, mailed it from the US to our friends and relatives. We did this in the first half of the trip and the cards beat us home.

    We also established an online travel blog with travelpod.com, hoping that we will have regular enough internet access to update it in real time. What I like the most about this site is the ability to draw the route on the map as we update from the different towns. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to experiment with things like how to embed the pictures in the text. We found that because we were so busy on this trip, moving nearly every day, and with irregular access to a computer/high speed connection, it was too hard to keep the travel blog updated in real time.


    Thursday, September 21: We’re off

    We all met in my driveway for the drive to the airport. Dad had nearly left his travel blazer on the bed with his passport/money in it, but turned back at the last minute and got it. We loaded the luggage in my car, took departure pictures, and closed it up. Mark turned to me and said, “Which car are we bringing to the airport?” “Um, the one with our luggage in it.”

    At the airport, Mark won the weigh in – his suitcase was 32 pounds, mine and Dad’s were 35 pounds each. We all headed to the rest room – the same one. “Nancy, this is the men’s room.” Oops!

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    Friday, September 22: arrival in Bucharest

    The transatlantic flight was fine, and we landed pretty much on time at concourse 2F. CDG was a zoo – when we got to 2B there was nowhere to sit until we were allowed to clear security and go to the gate. Plus, 2B smelled like a sewer. I stood in line at the duty-free shop to buy these little Toblerone bars. Turned out they were free samples! That good fortune was balanced out by the 8€ that I had to pay for three standard bottles of water. Ouch! No matter how much water was served on the plane – and I took it every time it was offered – I still was parched. The current security situation is so annoying. Waiting in all those long hot security lines without my own water bottle was murder.

    The Air France flight from Paris-Bucharest was on an ancient 737. I was surprised that the flight attendants spoke French and English but not Romanian. We had a pretty bad scare on this leg. My father fainted just after take off, and it really looked like he had died. Eventually the flight attendants were able to revive him, cleared out a row on the plane, and he slept for three hours. Mark and I spent the flight trying to recover from our shock, and questioning the wisdom of taking a trip with an elderly parent! We realized that we would need to be doubly careful that Dad got enough rest. [The doctors told him later that this incident was not related to his brain tumor. He has always had issues of fainting, and actually carries spirits of ammonia with him but I didn’t really know that at the time. We made sure he carried those on board for the return flight, but had some trouble with the liquids rule because this was before the 3-1-1 rule.]

    I loved the view out the window as we approached the Bucharest airport - all the little strips of farmland, each planted with something different. Romania has not done a lot of rationalizing of the farms, so many of the villages have retained the system of tiny individual parcels of land.

    We were greeted at the airport by two very excited relatives and our first round of kisses on both cheeks. This is such an effective gesture of greeting/farewell. Being a woman, I also got a lot of kisses on the hand from our male relatives.

    It was a grey day and the drive from the airport to the city center was also gray. There was tons of traffic on the road, and got our first introduction to Romanian driving. Lots of acceleration and braking, impatience and lane changing.

    Bucharest was preparing for the Francophone summit that would be the upcoming Wednesday through Friday. The city was expecting many heads of state and was busy sprucing up and practicing for the event.

    I enjoyed my view of the downtown as we made our way to the Hotel Rembrandt, a very small boutique hotel opened by Dutch investors in a renovated old building. It is on the edge of the pedestrian zone of the city, on a street that is traffic restricted. You have to tell the guard that you are going to the hotel, and he will open the gates. We were very pleased with the hotel and loved the location.

    Most of the rooms are on 6 levels accessed by a small elevator. We had one business class room which was huge and had a nice view out the front of the hotel. The single room was small, but fine. The deluxe double was in a different part of the hotel and was one level up – with its own little flight of stairs and no elevator access. It was originally going to be for Dad, but I changed rooms with him so he didn’t have to do the walking. Each room had individually controlled air conditioning units. It was pretty warm in Bucharest that day, so we actually needed the a/c.

    I was able to rent a laptop from the hotel for 10€/day, payable in cash. The hotel had a high speed connection, so we downloaded our first day’s photos and updated the online travel blog. While Dad napped, Mark and I walked around the corner and got cash at an ATM, and enjoyed our complimentary drink (orange juice for me, iced tea for him – what can I say, we’re boring) at the hotel bar, which is up a little spiral staircase on a mezzanine level they carved from the lobby. Then we had a brief nap before meeting two of our relatives, Silviu and his wife Ioanna, for dinner.

    We walked to the City Grill, which was a great choice. It was quiet enough that we could talk, and provided a wonderful introduction to traditional Romanian food. The mămăligă (corn polenta with sour cream and cheese) was especially delicious.

    A Word about Food:
    We ate almost exclusively at restaurants that served traditional Romanian food. People kept stressing to us that the food was organic, but we weren’t sure if this was by design or necessity. We loved the soups; always generous servings and always ladled into our bowls from a separate serving bowl. Tripe soup was a menu standby, but I wasn’t adventuresome enough to try it. Brains were also common on the menu. A favorite dish was clatite, a crepe that could be savory (filled with chicken and mushrooms, for example) or sweet (filled with jam, chocolate, or ice cream.) We ordered the samale (stuffed cabbage) several times. We loved the country/peasant style potatoes, which were pan fried with pieces of bacon. We had excellent fish and also salads. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers were common, especially at breakfast. Romanian cheese is mostly of two types: brinza a soft cheese, and cap caval, a hard cheese. These are very salty, and we are told that is because of the traditional lack of refrigeration in Romania.


    After dinner, Dad went back to the hotel to sleep, while Silviu and Ioanna took Mark and me on a driving mini tour of Bucharest at night. We saw the National Theatre, the Palace of Parliament (the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon), and some upscale hotels and shopping streets. We stopped at OMV, an Austrian gas station chain, and bought bottled water and snacks at the attached convenience store. We were excited to discover these chocolate wafer cookies called “Joe” – Dad’s name - so of course we had to stock up! Our relatives pointed out that the convenience store had an attached bar.

    Picture link:
    share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8DZsmzZuzboo

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    Thanks, Lucy D and Sandybrit! The trip really was a ton of fun, although it certainly had its poignant moments.

    Saturday, September 23: Bucharest to Făgăraş

    Waking up to a light rain, we prepared to leave Bucharest. We were treated to a varied breakfast buffet at the Rembrandt: lox, hard boiled eggs, toast, cold cuts, cheeses, orange juice, coffee, cereals, yogurt, and fruit - served in the mezzanine bar of the hotel lobby. Silviu met us at 8:30am to drive us to the Gare de Nord train station. His chauffeur role was made considerably more difficult by the many closed roads we encountered. These were a result of weekend practice for the Francophone summit meeting to be held later in the week.

    At the station, we had our first sighting of Romania's infamous stray dogs. This one was harmless, and we headed through the cold rain into the station.

    We boarded the 9:38 train for Făgăraş, Transylvania. Our seats were in an ancient first class compartment. Three elderly Romanian men took the remaining seats. They were wearing suit jackets, ties, and sweaters and placed their hats carefully on the little hat shelves. During the ride, we had a conversation with the men in mixed English, German, French and Romanian. We talked a bit about Dad’s ancestors in Transylvania. Two of the men were Joe's age, 79, and one was 84 - Zaharie, a lawyer, Ilie, an engineer, and Nicolau, a farmer. They were from Sibiu, Transylvania, and all three were imprisoned for varying amounts of time in the 1940's to 1960's for anti Communist activities. Nicolau showed us how his fingers were smashed by his captors. The main channel of our communication was Zaharie to Nancy. Every time he wanted to get our attention to tell us something, he would say, "Nancy, please." These charming men were our introduction to the way the Romanian people are friendly to strangers.

    Other highlights of the train trip:

    - seeing the front page picture of Prince Charles in the Romanian newspaper. He is very involved in efforts to preserve traditional Romanian architecture and way of life, in the villages of Saxon Southern Transylvania and of Maramures. He has just purchased a house in Viscri which will become an inn.

    - spotting out the train window our first Romanian haystack (kind of beehive shaped), our first horse and cart, and our first shepherd. Also our first vulcanizing shop.

    a Word about Vulcanizing Shops
    My father remembered from previous trips that every town and village had a “vulcanizare” shop that specialized in tire repairs. The conditions of the roads make these a necessity. I tried to capture these shops – and their signs – on camera. Some day I will return and make a special photo essay of these.


    Low points of the train ride:

    - the heat was on full blast and there was no way in our compartment to control it. When we mentioned to the conductor how hot it was, he merely nodded. Our compartment windows were locked, so we had to open the compartment door a breath of cool air. Unfortunately, all the people standing in the aisles ended up blocking the air from the windows out there that that did open.

    -We didn’t get a very good view when we passed through the mountains because of the rain/mist.

    Biggest surprise on the train:

    - the number of people coming into our compartment seeking money. One man came in and set out several cheap trinkets on my seat. A few minutes later he returned to see which we wanted to purchase. Our haul - a deck of cards, a notebook and 3 pens - total of approximately $3. There were also beggars. One young woman knelt and kissed Nicolau's feet.

    Făgăraş

    After a 4 1/2 hour ride, we arrived on time at the Făgăraş train station, where our new friends helped us off the train with our luggage and bade us farewell with double kisses and handshakes. At the station we were met by two relatives, who grabbed our suitcases. We walked the 100 meters to the Hotel Montana, our home for the next two nights.

    The Rough Guide assured us that the Hotel Montana is the best lodging in Făgăraş. If that’s true, then Fagaras is sorely in need of new accommodations. The room was relatively expensive by Romanian standards: about $45/night, not including breakfast. The hotel is some sort of adaptive reuse of a pre-existing building and the rooms have a very odd configuration. The rooms are plain, if not spartan. The walls and bare tile floors are a stark white. In my room + bath, there was exactly one electrical outlet, and it was hanging out of the wall by the wires. Plumbing pipes emerged from rough holes in the bathroom walls. My brother’s room had incorrect venting of the bathroom plumbing, resulting in sewer fumes in the room. In Dad’s room, he had to push two switches simultaneously to turn on the bathroom light. Apparently each switch connected to one wire to complete the circuit.

    Temperatures in the hotel rooms were as cold as the train was hot. I cursed my last minute decision to remove the silk long underwear from my suitcase. My solution to the temperature problem was to sleep in socks and a sweater and use both duvets on my one twin bed. We were on the second floor (up two flights), and due to the slapdash construction we had to remind ourselves when we went up “watch your shoulder here” “watch your head here” and “watch the little step here.”

    a Word about Staircases
    We found that staircases in Romania commonly did not have risers of equal height. There was usually one step, often the top, which was tiny (about 3”). My brother, the architect, was heard to mutter, “Do the math, people.”


    The afternoon and evening were occupied with relatives. We ate dinner at the Palace restaurant, where we enjoyed traditional food, including my favorite: white bean soup with smoked pork bone, and for dessert, papanasi, fried balls of dough. The 12 dinners on our tab totaled around $70. Relatives arrived at the restaurant by carloads as they reached town. We ended up pushing together a bunch of tables. They told us of an old Romanian saying “if you sit on the corner of the table you will never get married.” Everyone brought old photos, and we also showed around our Shutterfly photo book of our family in the US.

    There was another big group eating in the restaurant: the wedding reception of Gary from Michigan, who had just gotten married to a Romanian woman from Făgăraş. He said he spoke no Romanian, so he was glad to chat with us about college football for a while (Mark is a Notre Dame grad, my father from Ohio State).

    My brother had lots of fun sprinkling his Romanian phrases into conversations, and was been met with great amusement. He actually did quite well. I slowly began to learn a few words.

    a Word about Language
    I found English not as prevalent as I expected. It is fairly common in the younger generation, as English is now a required subject in the schools. Russian was taught in schools during the Communist years; between the two World Wars, French was the language usually taught. We found German was very common in Transylvania, which had a centuries long presence of ethnic Germans (although most of them left to return to Germany after the fall of communism). I ended up learning a couple dozen Romanian phrases, mostly of the greeting/pleasantry variety. The first phrase I used was “apa plata” – still water. I ended up speaking in German and French a good bit, especially when speaking with relatives. This sounds a lot grander than it was in reality; my German and French are very patchy. We were very happy to be with our guide/driver for 6 days, as he navigated our contacts with the Romanian vendors and shopkeepers, as well as with a few of our relatives. Most of the rest of the time, we were in the company of at least one relative who spoke English.

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    noe847 - Would you mind sharing the cost of the business class room at the Hotel Rembrandt - it looked very nice and so spacious.

    You and your brother must surely have been terrified when your dad became ill on the final leg of your journey. I am so glad he was able to continue on and enjoy this return trip to his homeland.
    He was very brave to take such a journey at his age.

    Sandy

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    What a lot of work to get this posted. Thanks so much. I love the pictures intersperced. I have dialup (living in the country...) and couldn't get the slide show to work, but I could click on all the pics and enjoyed them.

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    SandyBrit, I will look up the hotel info and provide it here.

    Yes, it was pretty awful on the plane - we'd just left Paris. I won't go into a lot of details, but my brother and I were convinced that Dad was gone. I don't ever think I've been so relieved as when I saw his fingers move - about an eternity later once the flight attendants had him back on the galley floor!

    When we were planning we knew that the itinerary was a bit aggressive, but my father had always been strong and very healthy. In fact the only time he ever went to the hospital in his entire 80 years was the overnight for his brain biopsy. We provided rest opportunities for him almost every day.

    He was so happy being there - he was interested in everything we saw, and he tried to decipher every Romanian newspaper he got his hands on. He loved showing the two of us his homeland and his relatives - it was a lifelong dream of his to do that, and he got to do it in 2001 and 2006. I only wish that more of his children/grandchildren could have joined us.

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    SandyBrit, the Rembrand's website is:
    http://www.rembrandt.ro/
    The hotel is ranked #1 on Tripadvisor.
    The rack rates are:

    Business class €137 weekdays, €117 weekends, breakfast included (for 2 people add €10 for another breakfast)

    Standard room €112 weekdays, €102 weekends

    Tourist room €68 weekdays and weekends

    We had one of each size room (or else we had a single Tourist and a double Tourist). We figured we'd hang out in the large Business room, and it would have a nice desk for the computer, organizing photos, etc. The hotel worked out great. The only possible negative is that you can only reach the bar/breakfast area via a spiral stair - I don't think it had elevator access, so if stairs are a problem it's something to consider.

    The other hotel we were considering is the Hotel Opera, which Fodorite Stu Tower highly recommends. It is on the other side of the central downtown area, maybe 6 blocks from where we were.

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    Grr, the "edit" function would not let me add the photo link for the Saturday, Sept 23 entry:

    http://share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8DZsmzZuzbps

    Brahmama, I'm glad you are enjoying the photos. There are lots more to come about 2 posts from now, so you may have to pick and choose with that dialup connection.

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    Hi Nancy,

    Thanks for sharing your journey with us through words and pictures. My condolences on the loss of your father.

    I'm glad you had the chance to travel with your father back to Romania. Isn't it interesting what you learn when you do that? The best thing is, your father lives on through your stories. My grandma always says that a person lives on for as long as someone thinks of them.

    It seems you have some great memories of that trip, even with that scare in the beginning. I look forward to more of your memories and pictures from that trip.

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    Thanks, gomicki, we all felt that way. mcnyc, your grandma is very wise! We really did have lots of fun. My Dad was quite the jokester and he didn't let a little language barrier get in the way! We laughed a LOT on this trip.

    As an aside before the next installment:
    I must apologize for the violence I’m doing to the Romanian language through my inconsistent and absent accent marks on Romanian words and place names. I began by trying to include them, but it takes so long to manually insert them that I’ve sort of dispensed with them.

    Sunday, September 24: Făgăraş and the ancestral village

    Mark woke up early and walked to the train station to look for a newspaper. There were none to be found. A relative joked that there are no Sunday papers because Romanians sleep late on Sundays. We had breakfast at the hotel (a separate charge). The food was OK, some cheese, some ham, some vegetables and bread. There was a really delicious breakfast cake (like a stollen), but I think that one of the relatives brought it.

    After breakfast we went downtown to find an ATM. There were several in the downtown area, but none of them were working. We could see groups of people walking around the downtown, from ATM to ATM. We tried about three, to no avail. Dad even put his credit card into one ATM to obtain a cash advance. That led to problems a day or two later; the credit card company noticed an unsuccessful attempted use at an ATM and cancelled his card.

    We spent the majority of the day with relatives. First we attended services at the Greco Catholic church in Fagaras. The church is new, having been built in the past 6 years. Dad donated the bells for this church, and it was very moving to hear them peal forth before, during and after the service. A little background: when the communists came to power, they prohibited the Greco-Catholic faith, confiscated all of the churches, and gave them to the Orthodox Church. Once communism fell, the Greco Catholic faith could again be practiced, but they no longer owned any churches. Although a few of the former Catholic churches have been returned by the Orthodox Church, for the most part the Greco Catholics have had to build new churches. During the years of communism some of our relatives became Orthodox, others remained (secretly) Greco-Catholic.

    We took tons of photos, candid and posed, in the churchyard, then my father hosted a 5 (or 6? I lost count) course meal (arranged by a cousin) - an enormous amount of food, including two complete main course plates - with a group of 25 back at the Palace restaurant. More photos were shared. We also passed around a tape player and asked each of my father’s first cousins to record some old stories. At some point we will need to get this tape translated!

    This restaurant accepted only cash. We didn’t have enough Romanian cash because of the ATM problem, but they did take American dollars. Whew! We had each brought a fair amount of dollars, because we were told that the guide preferred that payment.

    A Word about Money
    We found that few places in Romania outside of Bucharest accepted credit cards, so cash was a necessity. Even in small towns, American $ and Euros were commonly accepted. ATMs were available in all of the major towns. The only problem we had was in Fagaras, and I’m sure that was a fluke.

    Romania has recently changed its currency. The ‘new’ money is 10,000 times smaller than the ‘old’ money. Some prices were in the old, other places quoted the new. We received both from ATMs and shops. I didn’t have too much trouble with it. If the price or the bill had a lot of 0’s I just mentally took off 4 of them. The exchange rate was 2.87, and I usually estimated by dividing the price by 3 (and adding a bit) to get dollars. Of course, my father’s chart was a lot more accurate.


    In the late afternoon we all piled into cars and drove to the village of Dridif, the second village west of Făgăraş. This was the home of our ancestor, my father’s grandfather, who was a Greco-Catholic priest in the little church there. For the past 60 years in this little village the two little churches, facing each other across the street have been both owned by the Orthodox Church, which uses the former Catholic Church as its winter worship space because it is smaller and less expensive to heat.

    Lots of villagers were out sitting on benches enjoying their Sunday afternoon when we all arrived and began piling out of our cars. I think some of them remembered a similar scene five years ago when my father and brother (and relatives) last came. We milled around inside the church, smelling the damp and neglect (with potatoes stored in the vestibule and piles of sawdust on the pews where the insects have left their mark). Only the males were allowed to pass behind the iconostasis, and nobody but the priest could stand in line with the altar. We all lit candles on the graves of our common ancestors, my great grandfather and great grandmother.

    We were also able to tour the Orthodox church across the street. It was very beautiful, with every surface covered with paintings.

    A Word about Family
    I couldn’t imagine how I would react to meeting the relatives, those people whose names I’d heard and pictures I’d seen. I supposed that I would be confused and overwhelmed – so many people, so many names, so little English! They ended up captivating me with their affection, their enthusiasm, their willingness to share, and their pleasure in seeing us. We have enjoyed each others’ pictures. And stories. I see their blue eyes (like my own) – a family trait. We share a history. Although I did not have a solitary moment for reflection in my great-grandfather’s church, I could feel him alive in the company of his descendants, as they all paid him homage at his grave. After we all left the churchyard, our candles remained, still burning on his tombstone. I cried when I saw it then, and I cry when I recall it now.


    It was hard to say “Goodbye” to many of our relatives, who were driving back home after the visit to the village. I love those double kisses especially when combined with a heartfelt hug. We were given lots of instructions on which relative we were to call when we reached which town in the upcoming week.

    Back in Făgăraş, two of our relatives, Rodica and her adult son, Grig, insist that we visit them in their apartment. We walked in to the smell of food cooking and the sight of a table set with stacks of dishes. In Romanian homes, you can tell how much food you will be served by the number of plates stacked up in front of you. Each course is on a separate plate, and it is removed for the next course. Uh oh. We were still totally stuffed from the earlier meal. No amount of explanation would dissuade Rodica from serving us, but neither she nor Grig ate anything. When we asked them, they said that they were full. Yes, we know the feeling! We were served fish, chicken, pasta, salad, and homemade ice cream. My cousin doesn’t speak a word of English, and her son, who does, didn’t translate very much. It was kind of comical – she talked nonstop the entire time we were there, apparently oblivious to the fact that it wasn’t being translated. We looked at a lot more family photos.

    We returned to the Hotel Montana where we bundled up for another chilly night. I stayed up late trying to process my experience of Romania so far. In the past two days, I’d gotten a taste of city, country, town, village. So many impressions, so many visual images, so many political, historical, religious, and economic discussions. And family stories. So many things I’d heard and read before I came, and yet nothing prepared me for the experience of this country and of my heritage here.

    Photo link:
    share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8DZsmzZuzbqg

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    Nancy, I loved your report! I am born in Romania, lived there until I was 38, and from then I return there yearly to visit my mother, sister and friends. It is always interesting for me to know how other people see Romania and the Rumanians.
    But your report is something special for me, I was very impressed by your will to make a pleasure to your father. I am sorry for his death, and if you can find consolation in something, this , this should be the fact that he could enjoy a so nice trip in this natal country, and the feeling that his children love him so much and wants him to enjoy.

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    Thanks to everyone for the kind replies!

    The rest of the report will be coming - with the next post we begin touring around and take leave of our relatives for 5 or 6 days.

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    The post for this next day is very long so I am going to break it into 3 posts. I can assure you that the remaining days have much shorter entries!

    Monday, September 25: Făgăraş to Sighisoara via Saxon villages

    We woke to bright sunshine and a view of the Făgăraş mountains over the neighboring gas station. We were to meet our guide at 9:30, so we repacked our suitcases, and separated out a snack bag, a bag to have on the seat (camera case, film, map, printed material appropriate to each day’s sights, water bottle, journal), and a book/literature bag. We also had a souvenir bag, that contained all the gifts from relatives – we hadn’t bought anything ourselves yet!

    At checkout we were relieved to find out that the hotel, cash only, would accept US $$. We hoped that our guide would be amenable to being paid in Romanian money since we had used so many of our $ for the banquet the previous day and this hotel bill. One of the day’s tasks would be to find some cash.

    Daniel, our guide/driver, arrived and was immediately surrounded by our relatives, all talking to him in Romanian. They were making sure that he understood who we were supposed to call when we got to each town (they’d already made this quite clear to us!) Good thing that he was easy-going. The car was a little smaller in the trunk than we expected; luckily we had small suitcases!

    The first thing we did was to follow one car of relatives to Rausor, a village southeast of Făgăraş. In the churchyard of the former Greco-Catholic church there, we visited the graves of my father’s uncle and five of his cousins. Pictures were taken, candles lit. Mark and I climbed the church tower, and were rewarded with a lovely view of the countryside. Kisses and hugs as these relatives left for their drive to Arad.

    We drove back through Făgăraş, stopping at the medieval fortress there, which Mark and Dad had spent a good bit of time visiting in 2001. This was a brief photo op, mostly for my benefit. From what I saw, the fortress is a cool place. When we left Făgăraş, heading west, we saw lines of people along the roadside, hitchhiking. Daniel explained that in Romania hitchhikers expect to pay the people who give them rides.

    Since we would be driving right through Dridif, we decided to stop for another quick visit. Daniel missed the turn onto the little road on the left that leads into the town, so he drove on a bit to a place where he could turn around. This happened to be a dirt road in a potato field. There were people picking potatoes, a horse and cart, and a tractor. Of course we had to stop. I motioned to the people that we were going to take pictures, and one of the men did a happy little jig. I totally missed getting that on a video clip.

    With Daniel’s help, we talked with them, telling them that Dad’s father left this village 100 years ago. Boy, were they excited. The man exclaimed in English, “I love you!” In Romanian he added, “You made my day” and “I’m happier to see you than to see my own brother.” Maybe he didn’t get along with his brother! They pressed a bag of potatoes on us. We joked with our driver that he probably had never had tourists who acquired potatoes.

    We completed our detour in Dridif – taking pictures of the house that was built with the money that my grandfather sent from America. This house was sold and then later seized by the communists. I also took my first picture of a “vulcanizare” sign! And pictures of the little roadside crucifix shrine. We saw shrines with crucifixes everywhere in Romania. They were all approximately the same dimensions, nearly life-sized, and topped with a little roof. Every churchyard has one of these, there is almost always one in the village square, and we saw them often along the roadside. Many times the crucifix would be draped with colorful woven fabric or adorned with flowers. I never tired of seeing these shrines.

    Pictures from the morning so far:
    share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8DZsmzZuzbrk

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    Background: Transylvania and the Saxon Fortified Churches

    After taking leave of our relatives, we were ready to begin 6 days of sightseeing in Transylvania. Most people associate the region with the (mostly fictional) accounts of Count Dracula (historically Vlad the Impaler), but the history of the region is rich and layered, going back to the early Dacian peoples and subsequent Roman rule. In fact, the Romanian language is one of the 5 modern Romance languages based on Latin. Later, much of the area was ruled by Hungary for centuries. Some of Transylvania was under control of the Ottoman Empire for a period. The Hapsburgs ruled here also. Reflecting this multi-ethnic background, all of the towns in Transylvania have three names, Romanian, German, and Hungarian, which can be seen on road maps.

    Southern Transylvania was heavily influenced by the German settlers who began arriving in the 12th century, at the invitation of the Hungarian King Geza, in an effort to solidify his grip over Transylvania and stabilize his eastern frontier. These Germans, mostly from the Cologne region, are generally referred to as “Saxons.” In addition to hundreds of villages, the Saxons established 7 main fortress towns, and the region was subsequently known as “Siebenburgen.” These are modern day Sibiu, Brasov, Sighisoara, Bistrita, Cluj-Napoca, Medias, and Sebes. (On this trip, we visited all but Medias and Sebes. The ones with the best-preserved medieval centers are Sibiu, Brasov, and Sighisoara.)

    Faced with threats of invasion from the Tatars in the 13th century and then by the Turks in the 15th and 16th centuries, the Saxons built fortifications in their villages. They typically constructed rows of walls and defensive towers around their churches, which were often situated on the highest ground of the village. The churches themselves were equipped with strong towers. These were truly fortresses for the people (not the nobles) and in many cases the walls provided rooms for villagers to store provisions or temporarily live.

    These villages retained their German language and culture for eight centuries. When the Romanian revolution overthrew communism in 1989, 95% of the ethnic Saxons emigrated to Germany (“returning home” after 800 years!). Today the churches are mostly abandoned, and many are slowly falling to ruin. There are some efforts to preserve them; notably, a foundation supported by Prince Charles has been quite involved in trying to save not only the churches but the villages and their way of life.

    Saxon fortified church research/resources

    We learned of the Saxon fortified churches in a guidebook and were immediately fascinated by them. (Several Fodorites, including Clifton, Michael, and Faux also mentioned these in their trip reports) We did internet research and even borrowed an obscure book on the topic through interlibrary loan.

    There are some fantastic pictures of the churches in the galleries of the “Photo Raid” from 2004, where a group spent 8 days photographically documenting the churches:
    http://photoraid.dordeduca.ro/photo/

    Another site with extensive photo galleries of the Saxon churches:
    http://www.saxontransylvania.com/
    Information about the Prince of Wales’ efforts:
    http://www.mihaieminescutrust.org/content/nd_standard.asp?n=117

    When visiting the Saxon churches the “key” is finding the person with the key. In smaller villages visitors are quite noticeable and you might attract the attention of the keyholder. We thought it an advantage to have a guide who spoke Romanian, as he was able to negotiate our access to the churches.

    Our last day in Transylvania, we came across some very nice Saxon church resources. They were sold at the entrance table at either Harman or Prejmer. Here are the details:

    1. A German “Atlas der Siebenburgish-Sachstschen Kirchenburgen un Dorfkirchen.” This has a detailed map of Saxon Transylvania, showing topography, roads, and what type of church is in each village. On the back, there are diagrams and descriptions of 21 of the fortified churches, showing their original configuration (in many cases, there were originally two walls and/or a moat protecting these churches).

    2. A map, available in English, titled “Two Tourist Routes for visiting the Saxon fortified churches in the Brasov-Rupea region.” The map scale is 1:140,000, and has little drawings of the original appearance of the churches. On the back are descriptions and present day photos of 30 of the churches. The best part is that contact addresses and phone numbers for each church are given. Information on the front says: “This map has been prepared for the meeting 2005 of the World Monuments Fund in Hermannstadt/Sibiu by Dr. Hermann Fabini, on request and financing of Beatix and Christian Habermann Siebenburghisch-Saxhsische Stiftung.”

    3. A similar map, available in English, titled “Three Tourist routes for visiting the Saxon fortified churches in the Sibiu-Sighisoara region,” scale also 1:140,000, with the little drawings of the original church plan. The reverse has 23 descriptions/photos with contact information. The front says: “Map released with support from the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest.”

    Finally, we met two German fellows who were working on a book about the Saxon Fortified churches. That book has been published, and I have a copy on order from the German Amazon site, so I’ll be excited to receive it. I think, but am not sure, that some of it will be in English.

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    So, now we were ready to start our touring of the Saxon fortified churches. We had done a lot of investigation of these churches, and decided to give this full day to visiting as many of these villages as we could (and hoped that we would be able to see a couple more later in the week). We had devised a proposed route that would maximize our ability to see as many interesting ones as possible. We had no idea if it was realistic, however, because we didn’t know if the tiny roads we saw on our map would be passable with the car. It was hard to gauge how long it would take us, since that would depend on how many of the churches we would be lucky enough to go inside.

    We showed our little plan to Daniel. He thought that our proposed route was fine and told us that the little road that connected the villages is paved and is a good road. He agreed that we could just see what we could fit into the day, stopping as we wished and modifying the route as necessary. I will detail each stop that we made, in case anyone reading this happens to be as interested in these churches as we were.

    Venturing west from Dridif we turned right (north) at the next village onto a good local road. A few kilometers later we were at the village of Cincsor. The church was on level ground, right in the center of town, surrounded by a wall with short square towers. The church steeple is a slimmer tower and has clock faces on all sides. The towers, the wall, and the church itself were plastered white and had red tile roofs. The church was not open, so we just walked around it.

    The village was pretty quiet. Chickens ran around under the trees and we saw some horse carts and a woman pulling a hand cart, who was happy to pose for a picture. As is typical for the Saxon villages, the houses had lovely ornamental plaster work and hipped tile roofs.

    A few kilometers later we came to the larger village of Cincu. The church is set among evergreen and hardwood trees up on a hill. Daniel made inquiries and located the man with the key – at the other end of the village. We gave him a ride with us up to the church. Along the way, we passed a large group of Romani people in the center of town. There is an iron gate around the church – much later in date – with these crazy angel statues all along the top (most of the original fortified wall is gone). Going through the gate, we followed a rock path through leafy trees. It was cool and peaceful in the churchyard.

    The church entrance is obviously a later date than the church itself: yellow plaster with classical pilasters and a pediment. We paid a small admission charge to enter the church. The interior of this church is amazing. The main aisle forms a “Y” shape at the back, as it goes around both sides of a pillar that supports the tower. The aisle slopes downward as it goes along the nave. The apse, much narrower than the nave, has a lovely painted altarpiece. This church still has services, every second week, for its couple dozen remaining Saxon families. Small rugs and cushions hold their places in the front few pews.

    The loft is vaulted with rounded arches. We went through a little door, and were in the tower, which is tall and crowned with a slimmer spire than most of the Saxon churches. The steeple has the four little corner spires, which Daniel told us signifies that in the middle ages this town had the right to impose the death penalty. We were able to climb as high as the bells, and had a great view out the small tower windows.

    Our next stop after Cincu was supposed to be Merghindeal. We drove through rolling hills and green fields. Along the side of the road we saw big black mounds with smoke pouring from them. Dad guessed correctly: they were making charcoal.

    We passed more fields filled with cows. Then we saw a big flock of sheep and a shepherd with them. With his shepherd stick. Of course, we had to stop to talk. Mark wanted to know if he happened to have any wool/yarn for sale. We were in luck! The shepherd and his wife had half a kilo of yarn from the Turcana sheep, which we bought. Mark and I decide split this yarn. Between our two families, we have 5 knitters. The farm is so pretty – it turns out that all the land that we can see is owned by an Italian man, and this shepherd and his wife are managing the farm for him. The yarn joined the potatoes in the trunk.

    At about this point, Daniel realized that he had taken the wrong road out of Cincu. We were heading west, not north. So we turned around and retraced our tracks to pick up the correct road. None of us minded, as we never would have seen the charcoal making or met the shepherd and bought the wool. Also, on the drive back through Cincu, Mark was amazed to see the speed bump in the middle of the street – it’s made from a big log.

    We soon reached Merghindeal. The church (dating from1280) has two towers, which is pretty unusual, especially since these are nearly of equal size. One of the towers has a wooden gallery with clock faces. Cornstalks grow right up to the wall that surrounds the church. A barbed wire fence prevented us from walking all the way around. We did not get inside this church.

    We followed a horse cart part of the short distance to Dealu Fromos (means “beautiful village,” I think.) The town has a very impressive plaster building that Mark remembered seeing a pictured in one of our guidebooks. One house had a stork nest in its chimney. First order of business in this town was finding a public restroom which turned out to be a “Turkish” outhouse behind the town bar. That was fun.

    While we were occupied, Daniel located the fellow with the key. The wall has a pretty little plaster swag over the entrance, and the dates “1522-1835.” Stepping through the gate, we entered a beautiful garden oasis. The key guy explained that the fortifying walls are owned by an architectural college, but the church building is owned by the lone remaining Saxon villager. Because of this, we were able to walk all around within the walls and up the little wall tower, but did not have access to the church itself. This church is another one that has two towers, both half timbered; the taller one has clock faces.

    We hopped back in the car for more driving through the glorious Romanian countryside. I want to quote from Clifton’s trip report, as we saw what he did at roughly the same time of year:

    “The roadway . . . is surrounded by meadows and forested hills. And haystacks. It was harvest time and everywhere you looked throughout Romania, people are working by hand, horse and plow in the fields. Tall, old fashioned haystacks and corn stalk stacks abound throughout the countryside, each stacked around a make shift pole and braced by carefully placed branches. They dot the horizon everywhere. Horse carts are piled high with hay; corn stalks; women in head scarves and galoshes; men in hats, kids in Adidas. Workers along the roads carry wooden rakes and scythes. There are tractors here and there, more the exception than the rule. In many towns, you see a Polizia sign in the middle of town and sure enough, standing on the side of the road, next to the sign, is a uniformed officer. To top it off these drives, the autumn colors were still in much of their glory throughout the country, with only a few bare species. Yellows and oranges covered the hills and mixed with the evergreens, with only the reds past their prime.”

    Clifton’s entire report can be read at: http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=2&tid=34543931


    We went to Romania the last part of September, and the leaves were just beginning to turn. The weather was great. We had some warm, but not sweltering, days, and some cool (but not freezing) ones. We did have some chilly nights in a few of the hotels, as it was apparently too early for the heat to be turned on.

    Photo link of this part of the day:
    share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8DZsmzZuzbt8

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    Our next stop, Agnita, is a bigger village/town: around 11,000 people in the 2004 census. We parked and crossed a pedestrian bridge over a little river to reach the fortified complex, which was fairly extensive. Originally there were three defensive walls surrounding the church buildings, but these are now gone. Now there is a fence, and one end of the complex is now a school. We were not able to enter this church, although I think that it is sometimes open to visitors. Mark was excited to see this church, because it has tapered towers. Oh, the things that architects find fascinating! I walked around the entire fence, while Mark got to poke his head into the courtyard and snap some pictures.

    Although it was getting late, we thought that we had enough time to swing by Alma Vii (but not enough to take the Valea Vilor to Mosna to Medias loop). Enroute we hopped out at Bârghis for a quick photo op at a non-fortified, non-Saxon church that had a grazing horse tied in the grass (I think there was a fortified church somewhere in this village, but we didn’t see it). There were some wonderfully picturesque plaster houses in this village, and a man and woman walking with some cows down the little road. We passed Pelisor, a Saxon church, but did not stop.

    The church at Alma Vii is on a steep hill. The metal gate at the foot of the hill was unlocked, so up we went. Most of the stucco was worn off of the surrounding wall and the church, revealing the rough brickwork. In the 15th century the original Romanesque church was modified and fortified. The church itself has no tower (just a raised choir) but the wall has three or four towers, including a massive gate tower. The littlest tower had a stork’s nest. This is a very cool complex, in need of some major restoration.

    As I walked back down the hill, I ran into three people - ethnic Saxons - who moved to Germany 16 years ago, after the revolution. They return to visit the village every year. They knew the guy with the key and offered to summon him, but we regretfully declined, as we really didn’t have time to go back up there. I was quite pleased with myself, as I had conducted the entire conversation with them in my broken German. Although it was disappointing to miss going into this church, I was a bit comforted when I later read that the church interior was extensively altered in the 19th century.

    We pressed on and reached Biertan around 4:30 pm. This was the only stretch of bad/unpaved road that we saw the entire day. Biertan is one of the Saxon villages listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it is the largest of the fortified churches. There are 3 defensive walls and 6 towers. The church was built around 1500, in late Gothic style. We had read that Biertan is closed on Mondays, but our guide had assured us that we did not need to worry, as he knew the family that operated Biertan. There was a young woman with a key who allowed us to enter.

    We took the path up the hill, saving the covered staircase for when we left. We walked around, looking at the outbuildings and towers, including the “marriage prison.” Couples who were seeking a divorce would be locked in this place, where there was one bed, one spoon, etc. The story is that they learned to share and that nobody ended up getting the divorce. We also saw the Catholic tower, which Daniel said was set aside for the use of the remaining Catholics when the main church became Evangelical Lutheran during the Reformation. The church has a lot of interesting features, including inlaid linden wood choir stalls, ceiling paintings of straight and squiggly rays coming from the rib intersections, and a famous lock on the treasure room door that has 19 bolts.

    From the fortress’ vantage point on the top of the hill, we could see the town below, surrounding terraced hills, and an extensive group of multicolored beehives.

    Back down in town, we visited a lovely craft shop, where I bought a small painted glass icon, a painted wood icon, and a carved wooden spoon. Mark and I each bought some very detailed painted (hollowed out) eggshells. These were supposedly from the shopkeeper’s private collection. To protect them for travel, the eggs were wrapped individually and placed inside a cut open water bottle, which was then re-closed and taped. We were very excited to find such beautiful eggs, as they were on our shopping list.

    With that, we were DONE sightseeing for the day. Whew! We drove north from Biertan until we reached the Medias/Sighisoara road (14). In fairly short order we arrived at Sighisoara, where we drove up to the top of town. Our hotel was the Hotel Sighisoara, one of three 3* hotels located in within the citadel (this is supposedly the only inhabited citadel in Europe). We had requested the Casa Wagner, but I think we ended up with the Hotel Sighisoara because of room availability. Apparently, this building was originally the town hall. There is no elevator, so we opted for rooms on the first floor (one flight up). The rooms are very nice. The shower in Dad’s bathroom has the highest sill we’ve ever seen. Luckily there was a grab bar.

    Dad was worn out, and we decided to eat right at the hotel (forgoing the restaurant at the Casa Wagner which came highly recommended by Fodorites Stu, Clifton and Michael). After previewing the dining room and the pub room downstairs, we chose to eat on the outdoor terrace because we had the most amazing clear, warm weather all day. Dinner worked out well: our food was quite good, we liked the Ciuc beer we ordered, and we were comfortable in our fleece jackets.

    After Dad went to bed, Mark and I wandered around the citadel, hitting up the ATM – successfully! We used the hotel computer behind the front desk. The fellow on duty was so helpful, and even gave up his chair so we could both sit. We were able to update our online journal. By now it was pretty late, and I desperately needed some sleep. At the same time, I was absolutely blown away at our amazing experiences in Romania. I had to jot down my impressions at the end of this very busy day:

    We had researched the Saxon fortified churches, had seen a lot of pictures, and chose a route that we thought we could follow, including an optimistic loop that could be chopped if we ran short of time. We anticipated that there would be a few nice ones and others plain or undistinguished. I had read that the villages were nothing special; only the churches would be of interest. If I found one or two churches that were exceptional, I figured that I’d count that as a good day.

    As it turned out, the day was beyond my wildest dreams. Every one of the churches we saw was great – some fantastic. We saw a lot. Not every single one on my list, but most. We were able to go inside more than we expected. And I couldn’t get enough of the villages. The pastel houses all lined up and connected by the high walls to the courtyards in between houses, their plaster details and weathered shutters. The women sitting on benches, the horse carts, the jaunty dogs. Our encounters with people - seeing them going about their lives – picking potatoes, making hay, burning charcoal, tending sheep, – was an added serendipity to the sights that we planned to see. All made especially attractive by the brilliant blue sky and bright sun. We were happily eating our way through our film and digital memory supply. I couldn’t imagine that we could equal this day.

    Photo link for this part (67 pictures):
    share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8DZsmzZuzbv0
    Photo link with just the highlights (28 pictures):
    share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8DZsmzZuzbwM

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    Nancy,
    This is,indeed,a treasure. People will be reading this for years to come. What a sensitive way to memorialize your father. Thank you for this time-consuming work of art.

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    Thanks LCBoniti and Brahmama - it's so nice to know there are some people are sticking with the report! I promise the entries for each day will be a good bit shorter from here on out.

    I'm having a good bit of trouble with my html commands, so I apologize if there is any bad formatting in this post.

    Tuesday, September 26: Sighisoara to Maramures

    Mark and I met right after sunrise so we’d have time to walk the town before the long drive to Maramures. The old part of Sighisoara is a citadel on a hill, and is known for its many towers, each built by one of the town’s original medieval guilds. Armed with a little schematic map, we set forth to see as many of the towers as we could while staying within the citadel. Two cheerful dogs accompanied us most of the morning.

    A Word about dogs
    Before my trip I had read various references to dogs in Romania. Apparently Bucharest in particular had a huge problem with stray dogs. This is frequently attributed to the dislocation suffered by people (and their dogs) when Ceausescu flattened many of the city’s neighborhoods and forced people to live in Soviet-style apartment blocks. The city has taken steps to limit this problem, and we saw only one stray dog in Bucharest.

    I had read a Fodor’s trip report that mentioned seeing lots of dead dogs on the side of the highway in Romania, so I was a bit apprehensive about what we might see on the driving portion of our trip. I’m happy to say that in our 10 days of travel, we saw only one dead dog. I can see how it could happen – there are few street lights along the highways, which are very rural.

    We saw (and heard) lots of dogs on the trip. They were often running around in the villages and towns, but it wasn’t clear that they were strays or just a feature of lax/nonexistent leash laws. Almost without exception they looked happy and fairly well fed. In the bigger cities we saw lots of people walking their dogs on leashes.

    --
    We started at the main square and then found the covered staircase up to the 15th century Church on the Hill (St. Nicholas) . It was too early for the church to be open, and the substantial Saxon cemetery was also locked. We made our way down via a path. Groups of teens were streaming up to school on the hill.

    We continued our way around the walls, seeing most of the surviving 9 towers. The little streets of the citadel are lined with pastel colored houses. The picturesque sight is only marred by the ubiquitous blaze-orange trash receptacles. Many of the buildings have whimsical metal cut outs as ornamental roof decorations, including a few with figures of pipers. Legend has it that it was to Sighisoara that the Pied Piper brought the children of Hamelin (Of course, other legends make Brasov the destination. We visited both towns, and I must say we saw more children in Sighisoara!)

    At 8:30 we met Dad and Daniel for a good breakfast at the Hotel Sighisoara. The plan was for us to tour the Clock Tower while Daniel took care of some banking. We went to the tower, passing the birthplace of Vlad Dracul (the real-life basis for the Dracula legend), which is the oldest building in the citadel (a fire in 1676 gutted most of the area). Lots of construction activity bustled around the outside of the Clock Tower, and there was a sign on the door. As best we could decipher the Romanian, the tower was closed for renovation starting September 26 – boo, that was today!

    The nearby Church of the Dominican Monastery was undergoing substantial exterior restoration. The interior was closed until much later in the morning. We ended up wandering outside the citadel through the Clock Tower gate and down a bit to the lower town. The light was finally getting good, so we shot some nice photos. And then it was time to leave for our drive north to Maramures.

    For the record, a morning is not enough time to see Sighisoara! But we knew that coming into the trip. We discussed the Maramures question extensively in the planning stages. It’s a long drive to get up there, and we could easily have filled our 6 days in southern and central Transylvania. But I did want Mark (and my Dad) to see something new on this trip, and Maramures sounded different and fascinating. In the end we opted to include Maramures although it squeezed our itinerary, causing a lot of moving around and leaving little time for in-depth exploration.

    So we left for Maramures. I found the scenes out the windows to be captivating. Romani people, cows, haystacks, farm work. We saw scores of horse carts, carrying every conceivable load (including a refrigerator). The zinc roofs of houses and churches glinted in the bright sunshine.

    We stopped for lunch at Bistriţa, which was a prominent mining center in medieval Transylvania. The old town has many remnants of that history, including a Gothic cathedral (locked) that has some unusual/weird Baroque additions to the facade (currently undergoing some restoration work.) There are many lovely old buildings lining the Piaţe Centrală. We ate a decent pizza at a small restaurant.

    Driving further north, we saw more wonderful rural scenes in the late September sun. Haying time in the fields, pumpkins, sunflowers, cornstalks. Houses have rows of tall thin windows on their south sides (and no windows at all on their north sides – is this for warmth or privacy?). There is fanciful wooden latticework on the top 1/3 of each window. Each house has a water well with an elaborate wooden box covering it.

    Photo link Sighisoara to Maramures boundary (66 pictures):
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    Photo link, fewer pictures (28 pictures):
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    The landscape became hillier as we approached the boundary marker for Maramures Judetul (“county”).which is located in a high pass with gorgeous scenery all around. There’s a complex of buildings which included a shop, restaurant (I think) and outhouses (yay!). On the wall of the shop was a newspaper clipping showing the proprietor dressed in full traditional dress, including a little straw hat perched on top of his head.

    a Word about Maramures
    The houses in Maramures are constructed of wood, and wonderful wood trim and latticework. Little round wooden structures with roofs enclose the house’s well. Fences are made of vertical wood slats, or of horizontal woven saplings. Elaborately carved wood gates are common.

    A commonly reported Maramures custom is the “pot tree.” According to tradition, people would put their cooking pots outside on tree branches to dry. The number of pots signified the relative wealth of the household; a red pot on the top of the tree meant there was a marriageable daughter at home. We saw a few of these trees, but they seem to have become a decorative statement at this point.


    We drove through the village of Săliştea de Sus, just as a funeral was ending. Groups of people were walking down the street, each carrying a loaf of “holy bread” with a candle in the center. The women were wearing traditional dress – not the festival dress, but black pleated skirts, heavy stockings, knit sweaters and black headscarves. When they saw us, the pressed around the car, holding out the bread loaves for us to take. So spontaneous, real and generous. And quick. In no time we had three loaves and had to turn down the rest.

    At Ieud, we parked at the end of the village and walked up to the Church on the Hill, reputed to be the oldest wooden church in Maramures (built in 1364.) The steeply pitched roof and steeple are shingled with thousands of intricate hand cut wooden shingles. Apparently, this architecture is related to wooden churches throughout northern Europe, such as Norway’s stave churches. Admission was free (I think) but you have to pay a small camera fee to photograph the interior. Paintings cover every surface of the inside of this small church. Biblical scenes are painted on linen strips that were applied directly to the wooden boards of the walls and ceilings. Tiny windows give views of the roofed crosses that mark the graves in the surrounding cemetery.

    Ieud’s other claim to fame is that it was home to over 50 women who earned the title of “heroine” under Communism for having 14 (or more) children. Even today Maramures reputedly has more children than adults.

    Next stop was the workshop of a master woodcarver, Toader Barsan, who has done demonstrations in Washington, DC at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. His studio and house are covered with his intricate carvings. We bought a lovely crucifix that we gave to our brother from the DC area.

    A kilometer or so later we reached the Bârsana monastery (actually an Orthodox convent), a group of buildings dotted around a manicured park-like hilltop. The buildings are all large, and newly built using the traditional techniques (thanks to donations received by the nuns.) Its church boasts the highest wooden steeple in Europe. The gardens were lovely, and the buildings were interesting, but the three of us felt that it was almost too perfect. I guess we just prefer older buildings. There were priests and nuns bustling about the complex – we even saw some nuns driving a Mercedes station wagon.

    It’s around 7:00 when we reach our home stay lodging in Vadu Izei. The host/homeowner was quite surprised when we pulled up and handed him the three loaves of holy bread!

    This was billed as a home stay with accommodations that “meet western standards.” That might be stretching it just a tiny bit, but there were certainly western style things about the house. It was modern and large, with a black and white ceramic tile fence. The bedrooms featured china cabinets filled with porcelain figurines. My ensuite room was off by itself up an exterior stairway. An uninsulated water heater in my bathroom turned out to be a nice source of heat for the bedroom. Mark and Dad were envious, as their bedrooms were a lot cooler. Mark had to go through Dad’s room to reach his. They shared a somewhat odd hall bathroom with Daniel. It was a quirky place but was friendly and comfortable.

    We ate dinner in a spacious outdoor gazebo. Our genial host served us homemade palinca (a double distilled plum alcohol – about twice as strong as the tuica that is common in the rest of Romania). He told us that he makes 600 liters of this per year! He joked that he expected us to finish the 2 liter bottle, but we could muster just one glass each. I really liked the taste of it, but I was just too worn out for partying. We enjoyed delicious chicken soup with dumplings, then chicken & potatoes (Daniel had called ahead to alert them that Mark doesn’t eat red meat), vegetables, pickles and mineral water. Over dinner Daniel asked me which day I had enjoyed the most so far, and I honestly couldn’t choose.

    I had not felt well all day – I suspect exhaustion had finally caught up with me. After dinner I welcomed my first (and last) 8 hour stretch of sleep. I think the dogs barked in the barnyard below my window, but I can’t tell you for how long!

    Pictures of our first taste of Maramures (57 pictures):
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    highlights (24 pictures):
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    LOL, Nancy, you won't be making us happy by promising your trip report will be SHORTER! Gosh, don't you know us at all? :) Longer, more detail, and more pictures, that is our motto. I look forward to more of your trip, this is just great!

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    I agree, Nancy - the more details the better!

    Really, I don't know when I will be able to visit Romania (and certainly not they way you have) so I am really enjoying traveling with you in this trip report.

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    noe847 - I just caught up with your postings. It is lovely to read such detail and the subsequent photos.

    What does it mean when you say 'fortified church'? As a Lutheran I was interested to read that the one church kept a section for those who remained Catholic.

    I will be leaving on my own trip this coming week to the U.K. to visit my mum. I look forward to catching up on your tribute to your father when I return.

    Thank you very much for taking the time to share so much about Romania. It is very much appreciated.

    Sandy

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    Hi Sandy! The village churches were built in medieval times by the German settlers in Transylvania (brought there by the Hungarian king to stabilize the eastern border of his empire). In following centuries, the region faced numerous invasions by a variety of folks, including Tatars and Turks. As a means of protection, the villagers constructed fortifications around their churches, so the churches became a place of physical (as well as spiritual!) refuge for them at times of invasion. The churches have walls encircling them (and sometimes 2 or 3 rings of fortifications) complete with watchtowers and gates, and defensive towers were also added to the churches. The whole effect is quite striking, and very unusual.

    Have a great trip to see your mum!

    I'm not sure when the next post will be. The report is essentially written, but it does take a while to edit/format and organize the photos and I am really busy for the next few days. For all those addicted to detail (and you know who you are, LCBoniti and HappyCheesehead!) there will be plenty, and a hefty photo link as well.

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    What a touching tribute - so beautiful! Your trip report is spectacularly detailed and easy to read. My husband and I are going to Romania (first time to Romania, been to Europe many times) in May so this will be coming in very handy!

    Thank you.

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    travel2live, I found Romania to be such an interesting destination, more 'adventure travel' than the other parts of Europe that I've visited.

    Wednesday, September 27: Maramures to Cluj-Napoca

    I awoke the next morning to the sound of the rooster crowing. We gathered in the barnyard and watched our host feed the animals. Our breakfast included eggs from the resident chickens; we ate in the gazebo, surrounded by flowers and grape vines. Our host cut a bunch of grapes for us to taste. Another bright sunny day awaited us.

    Daniel gave us a choice for the morning:
    Option A = the “short” walk to the palinca still, or
    Option B = the “long” walk that would first take us through the byways of the village of Vadu Izei and then to the still.
    We chose the longer walk, and we were in for such a treat. Now, I don’t think that Vadu Izei is more wonderful than any of the other Maramures villages. But it’s precisely the ordinariness of it that was so very extraordinary for us. After yesterday’s long stretches in the car, seeing intriguing sights whiz by, we now had the chance to drink in the village life and capture the little details. Fully armed with cameras, we made very slow forward progress.

    People were beginning their day – walking to the fields with their implements slung over their shoulders, hitching up the horses to the carts, sweeping out the courtyard. Everyone was friendly and agreed to let us take pictures. Daniel told us that Romanians are the friendliest people in the world. We were inclined to agree.

    By and large the houses were wooden with metal roofs, although there was some newer construction sprinkled in, and some houses with colored tiles in interesting patterns. Each house was actually a little compound surrounded by a high fence. The door of the house opened onto a courtyard (and not onto the road). The courtyard was very much an extension of the life of the family, and was filled with the household’s farm implements, animals, laundry, haystack, woodpile. Entrance to the compound is though a wooden gate, often carved in the characteristic Maramures style, wide enough for the horse cart. We caught glimpses over fences and through gates.

    After walking some of the side lanes, we came to the main road, and stopped in one of the tiny stores. It was a hive of activity. Children came by for a glass of soda, older men for a glass of something stronger, which they enjoyed on a little side patio. Older women were doing their marketing.

    The walking made us thirsty, but we had to stop in several stores before we found apa plata – most mineral water in Maramures seemed to be of the carbonated variety.

    We stopped for a while at a community palinka still combined with rug washing facility. People were driving up with loads of carpets to be washed. There was a small stream that has been channeled into wooden chutes with round wooden baskets. Rugs are placed in the baskets and are agitated by the stream water flowing over them. Then they are hung over racks to dry. It was fascinating for us to see it in operation.

    This walk was a highlight of the trip for all three of us. We reluctantly said farewell to Vadu Izei, and packed into the car. We drove to Săpânţa, famous for its Merry Cemetery. The grave markers in this cemetery are carved wooden crosses, each painted a bright blue and decorated with a scene and a poem appropriate to the person’s life or death. While the visual effect is cheery, the stories on the crosses are quite poignant. As is typical for me, I was drawn to the faded/weathered ones (I think that I’ve read that periodically all the crosses get fresh coats of paint.)

    The cemetery was obviously a tourist destination. Various craft vendors set up shop across from the cemetery. We bought some lovely openwork white table linens. I enjoyed seeing a fellow up in a tree knocking nuts off the branches with a stick for a woman who was collecting them below.

    When we were driving out of town we saw a woman sitting on a bench spinning wool with a hand spindle and of course we had to stop and meet her. She sat me down and showed me how to twist the wool into yarn. I’m certain that she had to redo the few inches that I managed to produce!

    We drove to Sighet, where we visited Elie Weisel’s birthplace. We walked through the rooms, absorbing the exhibition of Jewish life in Maramures before the Shoah. The photos were such vivid reminders of the life – and lives – lost. Almost all of the text was in Romanian, but a museum guide gave us a very nice talk, that Daniel interpreted.

    Lunch was in a nearby guesthouse/restaurant. We ate on a covered veranda in a leafy courtyard. Traditional Romanian fare, very comfortable and pleasant. I found it amusing that my cell phone coverage was being provided by a Ukrainian carrier – we were just a few kilometers from the border.

    If we’d had more time, I’d have gone to see the Prison museum. But we had a long way to drive and had spent so much time strolling around the village in the morning.

    In Berbeşti, we stopped to take pictures of the oldest wooden shrine in Romania (300 years) the Rednic Wooden Calvary. Memorable sights from this part of the drive: villagers carrying woven wooden baskets on their backs, horse carts with young horses being trained by walking alongside the bigger horses who were hitched to the cart.

    The car began to climb an 8% grade, with stone walls lining the road. We had one final stop before leaving Maramures: the wooden church at Şurdeşti. Built in 1766, this church had the tallest wooden steeple in Europe until construction of the new church at Bârsana monastery (that we had seen the day before). I was grateful to have a wide angle lens!

    The interior was striking: walls and ceiling surfaces were covered with beautiful paintings and framed glass icons draped with colorful woven textiles. We were not permitted to take pictures inside the church. There were only a few measly postcards for sale. If there had been a booklet with photos of the church, as you can find at so many European churches, I’d certainly have bought it.

    As we were leaving the church, a young girl approached us with beaded jewelry that she had made. I purchased two lovely chokers for my daughters. They were quite expensive by Romanian standards, so she came out very well. I didn’t mind rewarding her enterprising spirit.

    A word about the EU:
    That was the day that the European Union voted to confirm Romania’s entrance to the EU effective January 1, 2007. It seemed somehow fitting that on that day we were in a region where so many things had not changed in the past hundred years, yet here was a child of the next generation, successfully competing in western economic terms. Of course there are many questions raised about the economy of Romania; much of the standard of living is financed by Romanians who have left to work in other parts of Europe, sending their money home.

    We could sense the change in the air as Romania gets ready to join the EU. There were banner signs in the larger towns throughout the country – blue with yellow stars – celebrating Romania’s EU connection.

    Another Maramures image: a young man riding on the top of a haycart, talking on his mobile phone.

    It was well after dark when we reached the Onix Hotel in Cluj. The Onix had the nicest, most efficient front desk staff of any hotel on our stay. The rooms are well furnished, the towels are great, and each room has a computer with internet access (but the computers are Windows 98 boxes, and two of our three did not work properly.) Despite its advantages, I didn’t really like this hotel. Part of the hotel is a prominently featured strip club/limousine escort service, which made the whole place feet sketchy to me. It is also located in a blah part of the city.

    We embarked on a quest to find something to eat. I think it was around 10:00 at this point. The hotel restaurant was a logical place to start. The menu was fine, but we left after 20 minutes when nobody had come by our table. We walked to the Best Western next door, which turned out to have a very nice little cellar restaurant. We ended up just ordering desserts and coffee.

    Photo link for today (122 pictures):
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    Photo link of just the highlights (51 pictures):
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    Nacy;

    Your pix are fab...brought back many wonderful memories for me...turning the clock back in Maramuresh is quite an exercise...without the tv antennae, I'd say centuries ago. Ieud was one of our favorites...I think I recommended Elie Wiesel's house/museum..

    For those readers who may not know much about the Nobel Prize Winner (for Peace, 1986), he was born in Sighet in 1928. The Hungarian army, prodded by the Nazi's, moved rapidly into Sighet and vicinity in April '44..rounded up the close to 15,000 Jews, including 15 year old Elie...put them on trains after a few weeks and transported them to Auschwitz, where Elie immediately lost his mother and youngest sister to the gas chambers. His father eventually succumbed to the hunger. Elie survived three camps, and was reunited with his surviving sister after the war.

    He lived in Paris for several years and writes in French..but lives in NY, and is a professor at Boston University. He was awarded the Nobel mainly due to his remarkable peace-seeking efforts during the Bosnian conflict ('90's).

    His books on the Holocaust and its aftermath are nothing less than classic, and one in particular is widely used in the public schools.."Night" (Avon Books, 1958).

    Stu T.

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    Hello noe847!

    I find your report very touching, and full of amazing descriptions that you clearly have worked in very well over a period of time. Although I really don't know much of Romania (I have a good friend who grew up in Cluj-Napoca... but, and this is rather unusual for me because I always get extremely personal with friends, I have never talked to him about his childhood), I started reading your thread after noticing the title's reference to your father. It is my hope, as you indicate in your first post, you find the process healing. Just the way you describe your trip, I know your father must have been very proud of you (as a father myself, I know).

    p.s.: nice photos.... I can't get over the old ladies in the village, that short potato farmer's dance pose?:), or the unusual stair-step risers!

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    Yes, LCBoniti, my father did walk the village with us (although he did not join us on our walks in the larger towns Sighisoara, Sibiu and Brasov). He took a bunch of pictures, pointed out little details, and generally reveled in the experience. I'd have to guess that the walk may even have been his favorite thing (aside from family events). Maramures was a new region for him, and he was very interested in the wooden architecture and the details of daily life that we saw.

    Stu, thanks for adding that info about Elie Wiesel. Your suggestion to visit Elie Wiesel's house and museum in Sighet was one of many tips that you shared with me while I was planning for this trip. I have a question for you: do you know the story of the garden at the house? It's in the shape of a Star of David, and I know I read something about the particular plants that were chosen for the garden. I've looked and can't find the info.

    Thanks, ComfyShoes, for your words. We couldn't get over those things either! I have a photo file on my computer called "Great Villagers" (and another called "Horse Carts I Have Loved"!). We had a hard time believing what we were seeing.

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    Thursday, September 28: Cluj to Sibiu

    Our string of sunny days had ended. This was a gray day with rainy periods. After a decent breakfast spread at the Hotel Onix, we loaded up the car and drove to the Piate Unirii, which is in the center of Cluj. Lovely old buildings line the square, which is dominated by the medieval Cathedral of St. Michael. A large equestrian statue of King Matthew is surrounded by Romanian flags in an attempt to soften the Hungarian message. A block away we found a camera shop and bought some more film (yay!) near the house where Matthew Corvinnus (Hungarian king) was born (an old building with a lovely arched wooden door – not open to the public). Cluj was a Hungarian provincial capital, and 20% of the population of the city is ethnic Hungarian. In the piata we saw a little dug up section with some Roman column fragments lying around.

    A Word about Empires:
    Romania has a long and varied history, with an early stable Dacian civilization. The area then faced a succession of invasions and conquering empires. The Roman empire controlled most of present day Romania for nearly 2 centuries. In fact, the Romanian language is derived from Latin (it is one of the 5 Romance languages.) Others who made their mark on Romania were the Huns, the Tartars, the Magyars, the Mongols, and the Ottoman Turks. The Hungarian Magyars controlled much of Romania for 1000 years, and over 1 million ethnic Hungarians remain in Romania. Parts of Romania were controlled by the Ottoman empire for 400 years. The Hapsburgs also exerted influence for a couple of hundred years.

    In general, Romania is proud to identify with its Roman legacy. Nearly every Romanian town of any size has a central statue of Romulus and Remus with the She-wolf. In Maramures, the Dacian connection is emphasized, as the Romans never made it up to that region.

    In 1974, Cluj became Cluj-Napoca in an effort to underplay the Hungarian connection (the “Napoca” a nod to its Dacian roots) Interestingly, all of the towns and villages in Transylvania have three different names: German, Romanian and Hungarian. We found that some of the older Romanians referred to the Transylvanian towns by their German names. “Oh, they will be staying the night in Hermannstadt,” (referring to Sibiu).


    Our last stop in Cluj was the Orthodox cathedral of the Dormition/Assumption of Mary, erected in 1922, after the unification of Transylvania with the rest of Romania. The entire inside was covered with mosaics. On each side of the church there were little side rooms lined in copper. These were for lighting commemorative candles. I particularly liked the paintings on the iconostasis of this church.

    And then we were back in the car. The road south out of Cluj climbs a big, big hill. I would hate to be a horse trying to pull a cart up this long grade. We soon passed through Turda, which had some very old churches in the town center. This town looks like it would be fun to explore.

    A few kilometers later, we passed a “pot tree” with one red pot and lots of empty beer cans. We wondered if it was sending the message “yes we have a marriageable daughter, and we’ll throw in a six pack if you marry her.”

    We had specifically requested to visit Alba Iulia. My father’s uncle, a priest, was Vicar General of the Greco-Catholic church there in the early 1900’s and Dad wanted to see his church, which would have been the cathedral. In correspondence with the diocese, Dad received some information about the general location of the Greco-Catholic cathedral.

    Alba Iulia is famous for its baroque star shaped citadel. We only saw bits of it, however. We went right to the center and visited the Orthodox cathedral, built in 1922. It is surrounded by a lovely cloister. From the front door of the church, there is a great view through the cloister gate, along a park, and down a boulevard. The iconostasis is dark wood. A beautiful circular chandelier hangs below the dome. A steady stream of people came in to pay their respects and light candles. The church has a wonderful religious shop, and we each bought several items.

    Next door is the medieval Roman Catholic cathedral, which was recently restored. It was built over the course of a few centuries on an 11th century foundation. The interior is very stark Gothic with some Baroque decorative elements.

    We thought the Greco Catholic cathedral would be nearby, but it wasn’t that close. After driving around in circles for awhile when we finally located it, we found a very modern building – clearly built since the fall of communism. That’s when we realized that Uncle Leonte’s church would have been given by the communists to the Orthodox church. When communism fell and the Greco-Catholic church was again allowed, it was necessary to build a new cathedral. We just didn’t have the information as to which old church would have been his.

    After Alba Iulia, we turned east towards Sibiu. It became obvious from the architecture of the villages that we were back in Saxon Transylvania – plaster houses with tile roofs. We passed through Sebes, Apoldu de Sus, and Christian – all pretty places that I’d love to explore some day.

    It was getting to be late afternoon when we hit terrible traffic outside Sibiu. We crawled along, then turned south towards a little village that is one of Daniel’s favorites. Along the way we stopped at the folk museum to check out the craft shop there (thank you Fodorites!) It was a VERY nice shop, and we picked out many things: linens, more painted eggs, glass icons, a small rug. Mark bought a crazy Maramures carved wooden mask with sheeps wool hair.

    While we still had a few shreds of light left on this overcast day we hustled down to the village – Rasinari. Some of the buildings had “eyes” – semicircular dormer windows in the roof that look like sleepy eyes - common in the environs of Sibiu. We were taking pictures in the village, and a young woman told us that we should drive farther up the road, “It looks like a fairy tale.” The unpaved road was muddy and kind of steep, but after a bit of difficulty the car was able to make it up to that far part of the village. It was indeed quite picturesque. A stream ran along the road, so all of the houses on that side had bridges. And flowers on the stream bank. And horse carts, of course. Various villagers just stood and watched us as we walked around with our cameras (I don’t think they get too many tourists.) Despite the gray sky we got some nice shots. In the right light, the village would have looked amazing.

    We reached Sibiu and the Imparatul Romanilor Hotel just before dusk. This is a grand old hotel in the center of town, just off the main square. Emperor Franz Josef stayed at this hotel, and the bathrooms look like they were from that time! (Actually my bathroom looked like a 1970’s reno) We all had these odd loft rooms; a (very small in my case) living area and bathroom on the entrance level, and a sleeping area up a private little flight of steps. I was a little disappointed in the rooms, as I had visions of Dad falling down his steps if he had to get up in the night. When we all met in the lobby to go to dinner, I said, “I tripped on the door sill of my bathroom.” “So did I,” said Mark. “Me too,” said Dad. Luckily, Dad took lots of precautions – including putting a white towel on the bathroom door sill so he would be sure to notice it – and he didn’t fall overnight.

    Daniel pointed us to the Sibiul Vechi, a cellar restaurant that was cozy and attractive, and left us with his food recommendations. We ordered the fish and the farmer potatoes. Everything was quite good. Dessert was berry and apple clatita (pancakes) with ice cream. Mark and I walked around the piata at night, found an ATM, and used the hotel computer to upload some photos. We created postcards online from our own photographs and worked on the travel journal.

    Our fellow guests included a large well-heeled group from Austria. The lobby is lovely, and the hotel location is hard to beat. Although my loft room had a certain treehouse charm, I would have liked this hotel a lot more if we’d had more normal rooms.

    Photo link (90 pictures):
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    Photo link, fewer pictures (38 pictures):
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    Friday, September 29: Sibiu to Brasov (Carta, Rasnov, Bran)

    The hotel was undergoing exterior work; the workers, hotel deliveries, and church bells all made themselves heard VERY early in the morning. So I had to get out of bed and walk down my steps to close the window to the noise. Luckily, I was so tired I was able to fall back asleep. The highlight of the hotel’s delicious breakfast was the machine where we could make our own fresh squeezed orange juice.

    After breakfast, Daniel led Mark and me on a walking tour of Upper Town highlights. Sibiu is the European Cultural Capital for 2007, and the city had undergone quite a face lift in preparation. The piatas were newly paved with cobblestones in decorative patterns. There were even commemorative manhole covers that say “Sibiu 2007 Hermannstadt.” (Hermannstadt is the German name of the town) Much work was still being carried out when we visited – especially plaster restoration and painting. Scaffolding was everywhere. It was fun to see the Sibiu “eyes” on so many of the buildings. We even got to see a roof section (including an “eye”) that was being built on the ground before getting installed on the building.

    The large plaza, the Piata Mare, is surrounded by large pastel buildings with red tiled roofs. It is a scene out of Germany or Austria. The Roman Catholic cathedral on the Piata is a Baroque beauty. In the smaller Piata Hiet, we saw the Evangelical Cathedral, a medieval church with one of the original large wall frescos remaining – the Crucifixion scene. In the Piata Mica, we saw and crossed the iron bridge known as the Liar’s Bridge (there are lots of legends about the name).

    The town would have been striking in morning sunshine. Although the sun kept threatening to appear, the sky remained stubbornly cloudy. We spent our final available minutes climbing up the steps of the Council Tower, a 13th century tower, modified in the 16th and 19th centuries, which has great views of the city. If we’d had more time, I would have liked to see the Brukenthal Museum, especially the collection of wooden religious statues and icon paintings. Actually, we could have used a lot more time to explore Sibiu.

    Today we had arranged to see one of Dad’s first cousins. We had a lovely visit with Nicu and his wife in their airy book-filled apartment not far from downtown Sibiu. We enjoyed a wonderful phyllo and meat dish called picinita cu carne, and I got step by step directions on how to make it. (I later made it for my Romania booth at our church’s international festival, and it was good, but nowhere near as wonderful as what we enjoyed at their apartment) Nicu’s wife found out that I “speak” French and switched to that language, which was unfortunate because that left everyone else out of the conversation, and she and I became the main communicators. At least in Romanian, Nicu could participate, and Daniel could interpret for the 3 of us.

    We were disappointed that ill health prevented another of the first cousins, Lucu, from coming, as we hadn’t seen him on this trip. Dad did get to “talk” with him on the phone – with interpretation help from Daniel.

    After a pleasant hour, we were back in the car, driving east. We soon saw a series of roadside stands selling cheese. We stopped at a particularly photogenic stand, with a woman in traditional dress. She was selling a wide variety of cheeses that she had made herself (she proudly showed us her cheese maker certificate). After tasting all of the available wares we settled on a brinzâ in coajâ de brad (cheese wrapped in fir bark); we were to give this a cousin later in the trip. We passed lots of horse carts, beautiful little villages, and people selling potatoes and honey.

    Our plan for the day was Rasnov fortress, possibly Bran castle and then Brasov. Mark wanted to choose one additional (closer) place to stop and maybe enjoy a bite to eat as we explored. (Mark doesn’t eat red meat, so he had not gotten to eat any of the delicious picinita at Nicu’s apartment. On the other hand, I had enjoyed two pieces!) On Daniel’s recommendation, we chose Carta, which is just a short distance north of the main road – very near where the scenic road goes south over the Fagaras Mountains. (I WISH we’d had time to drive over the pass.)

    In the little village of Carta we passed a funeral gathering, then came upon the sizeable ruins of a Cistercian abbey from 1202. The choir part of the church seems to have been enclosed at a later date (the rest is ruins), but it was locked and the key holder was most likely at the funeral. We were able to walk all around the ruins of church and cloister. By now the sun had come out, making for good pictures and a very enjoyable stop. We didn’t get any food, though. Leaving town, we actually drove right in the midst of the funeral procession that was wending its way through the streets.

    After passing through Dridif and Fagaras on the main road, we turned right (south) onto a local road that took us most of the way to Rasnov. We loved this road – for long stretches it was lined with trees on both sides. We saw few other cars. Just horsecarts, bicycles, hand carts, cows, haystacks, farms and fences. Have I said how great this road was? The countryside began to get hilly. We could see barns and houses perched high up on the slopes above us. There was a little stream and field along the road – so pretty! Just a perfect little drive. If we saw something we could just pull over and take a picture, without worrying about traffic.

    Eventually we drove through Zarnesti, which is a ski town, where we had beautiful views of the mountains. Dad wasn’t feeling well (traveler’s stomach), so he stayed in the car while we visited Rasnov Fortress. This was a good decision, because the walking path from the parking area was very steep. As we walked we were treated to piped-in Italian opera music. Um, okay… Apparently an Italian fellow has a 99 year lease on the property and is busy restoring it to become an inn.

    Unfortunately, the fortress really rubbed us the wrong way. It has been over-restored and over-done in a kitsch-y kind of way. Hanging flower baskets and artifacts everywhere. As my brother said, “How many plows do you need to have lined up on the side of the road?” Not to mention that absolute piles of rubble seem to be being turned into buildings and rooms. It didn’t look like a particularly faithful restoration. We walked up to the top, and the views were pretty incredible. There may have been more to see – it really is a big site – but we were done and beat the proverbial hasty retreat.

    At this point I was dreading Bran Castle. It had never been on my list – the Dracula hype holds absolutely no interest for me. Furthermore, I knew that it had been used as a royal residence in the early 20th century, and I don’t care for palaces. But, we were so close (a flat valley and maybe 20 kilometers separate the two strongholds), and Mark wanted to stop, so we did. Dad once again stayed in the car and napped, which was again a good idea, since we had to walk up a steep hill here as well.

    Souvenir booths line both sides of the walkway to the Bran Castle entrance. I was expecting the worst kind of tacky trash, but actually we saw very few junky Dracula trinkets. There were lots of booths with folk crafts, especially in one particular side market. I found a Maramures wood-and-wool mask, which the lady kindly put aside for me.

    Daniel showed us to the entrance and left to go to a Hungarian bakery he knew. From beginning to end, the castle surprised us. To its credit, it does not capitalize on the “Dracula’s castle” hype. In fact, we didn’t see any mention of Vlad. The castle is a warren of passageways, rooms, balconies, arcades, and staircases. Queen Marie decorated the place with simple, white walls, dark woodwork, medieval artifacts, and rustic carved furniture (well, there was one odd room of gilt furniture which I totally ignored.) I found the whole effect unexpectedly pleasing. There were a fair number of people snaking their way through the castle; we managed to finally get in front of two guys who were taking pictures of themselves in every passageway and stairwell. Silly guys, don’t you know that you’re supposed to waste your pictures on horse carts and road signs?

    A word about road signs:
    We absolutely love the little pictorial road signs in Romania: round signs with pictures of horse and cart (my favorite), cow, children playing, train (little choo choo), bump in the road (little round mounds). We were on a constant quest to capture pictures of the signs as we passed them on the roads. We felt a bit sheepish about this endeavor. Our obsession was somewhat vindicated when I realized that our old Lonely Planet guide featured a horse and cart road sign on its cover.


    Back at the car, Daniel was waiting with cinnamon cake – actually a rolled hollow pastry, very much like the ones we bought last Christmas in the market in Prague – hot off the fire. Since we’d had no lunch, this made for a great snack.

    We reached Brasov around 7:00pm, and checked into the Aro Palace Hotel. Our rooms were in the original Art Deco part of the hotel. We had corner rooms, which were huge. And very comfortable. There was a lot of built-in furniture, soft seating and a table and chairs. My favorite part was the two toilets per room: a powder room on the left of the entrance and a full bathroom on the right. My father was amused to see huge mirrors over the tub in the shower. The closets contained lots of comforts: robes, slippers, huge shoehorns, shoe shine brushes. Usually I like small, intimate hotels, but this place was very nice. (Our pictures really don’t do it justice.)

    We met Cousin Carmen, her husband and son for dinner. Dad had very little energy from his stomach bug, so we ate at the hotel restaurant. The food was fine, and they had three live musicians. One of the singers had a great voice; we asked her if she had a CD, but she had none with her.

    We enjoyed looking at old family pictures and hearing old family stories. Carmen had corresponded with my sister years ago when they were both teens, and had seen my father on both of his prior trips. We were all say to say “goodbye” at the end of the evening.

    Later on, Mark and I used the one guest computer in the lobby and got money from the ATM next door to the hotel.

    Photo link (129 pictures):
    share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8DZsmzZuzb88

    Photo link, fewer photos (43 pictures)
    hare.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8DZsmzZuzb94

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    Nancy:

    >>>do you know the story of the garden at the house? It's in the shape of a Star of David, and I know I read something about the particular plants that were chosen for the garden.<<<

    When I first visited in the 80's, the house ws not open to visitors...but in the 90's the museum was established. Yes, it was Elie's family home, as is. When the family did not come back after the war (remember, only Elie and his older sister survived), a local man took possession.

    Once Elie's fame spread to Sighet, he was invited back as a guest of honor in the early '90's and the house was taken back from the local man and returned to Elie who promptly declared his wish that it be made into a little museum. The remnants of the Jewish community, about 45 people, saw to it to do so. Money was provided by the government (!) and the town of Sighet.

    I don't know the origin of the garden, but since it wasn't there when I first saw the house in the 80's, I figure the garden was planned as the museum took shape.

    Nance: Keep up this very detailed, informative and very well written report...everyone of us is enjoing it.

    Stu T.

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    Oh goodness. It does seem Rasnov has been taken too far. We enjoyed it, but it was still under severe renovations then, so it felt a bit more like ruins. Only a few wagon wheels in the main courtyard after you came in, and definitely no piped in music. I don't think we'd have liked it very much either, the way you describe it and I think I'd hesitate recommending it as I once did.

    I agree about Sibiu. We felt like we could have used more time there too.

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    Stu, I hope to finish posting very soon. We only have a few days left in our trip, and I believe the photo links will be smaller.

    Interesting background on the Elie Wiesel house. I looked back though all of our guide books and did a Google search, and just can't find the sentence I read about the garden.

    Clifton, for the most part our pictures don't actually show how tacky Rasnov looks (except for that one of the entrance courtyard with all the implements) - I think I was trying to frame the pictures without all the junk. You can see some of the flower pots, hanging things, etc., as well as the skylights(!! not sure how those fit on a medieval fortress).

    In Sibiu we didn't even get to the Lower Town, nor did we see most of the interesting towers. But it was a similar story for Sighisoara and Brasov: just a quick morning walking tour of each. Oh well, something for next time!

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    Oops, I just noticed that the photo link for the highlights photos (43 pictures) in the last entry was incorrect. Here is the proper link:
    share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8DZsmzZuzb94

    Saturday, September 30: Brasov to Bucharest

    True to our usual pattern, Dad slept in while we walked with Daniel around the Brasov town center. We didn’t have enough time to take the cable car up to the top of the hill, so we made do with a walk along the outside of Brasov’s walls and through some woods up to the White Tower and the Black Tower (named because of the damage it suffered in a 1559 fire.) We had some lovely views of the rooftops, squares, and plazas of the city although the light wasn’t optimal for photos, as the sun was shining over the opposite hill. We walked down and past the Iron Bastian and around to Catherine’s Gate, which is turreted and wonderful. Many of the main streets in the town center were totally torn up with construction, so we had to walk some different routes. We saw Rope Street, which used to claim it was the skinniest European street. Apparently but there were some competing claimants to that honor, so its claim has been reduce to being “one of the narrowest streets in Europe,” which sort of loses its punch! Anyway, we squeezed in there and took the obligatory pictures.

    We visited the Black Church (so named because the charring it suffered in a 1689 fire when the Hapsburgs arrived to “protect” the town from the Ottoman Empire) which is the largest medieval church in Romania. This church is famous for its collection of centuries-old Islamic rugs that hang from pews and railings all around the interior. These were collected in lieu of taxes from the traders journeying through Transylvania from Turkey. Many of the pews were painted to show which guild had owned them. I think this was my favorite medieval cathedral of the many we saw on this trip. The church had a good shop, where we bought postcards and books about the Black church and the area (no photography was permitted in the church.)

    We walked through the square to the Orthodox Church. At first I thought it was odd that there were shops on either side of the church doorway. Walking through, we found ourselves in a courtyard. The real church was straight ahead, with a lovely Art Nouveau metal grapevine over the door. We entered into the middle of a baptism ceremony. Although the priests were dressed in wonderful brocade vestments, we were interested to see that the babies were in regular street clothes. Along the side there were tables filled with baby items. We wondered if those were laid out to be blessed? We took a few silent photos and then slipped back out into the square.

    A word about Saturdays:
    We saw other baptisms and lots of wedding parties throughout the day on Saturday, in Brasov, small villages, and Bucharest. Cars decorated with balloons and brides and grooms being photographed in parks. Our cousin told us that she’d had a difficult time finding a restaurant in Bucharest for dinner that evening that wasn’t already booked with a wedding or baptism meal.


    We took Republicii Street, the main pedestrian shopping street, on the way back to the hotel. I actually bought more film. We really liked Brasov. Mark, who had not seen it in 2001, thinks it is his favorite Transylvanian town. Sibiu is more central to use as a base, but I would definitely spend time in Brasov.

    Leaving Brasov, we drove along flat fields until we reached Prejmer, which is UNESCO listed. This Saxon fortified church complex had an actual attendant and an admission charge. We entered a Baroque arcade through the outer wall, then a tunnel entrance to the central courtyard. In the very center was the church.

    The innermost wall is circular and has over 270 rooms on 4 levels. In times of invasion, the townspeople would gather within the walls, and each family would have a room. Wooden stairs and walkways connect the rooms in a very convoluted way. To reach any particular room, you have to track the pathways and stairs to the bottom, so you know where to start. We walked up to the top level under the roof – past some rooms with displays of old furniture and implements. You can walk all the way around the fortification in this ring of attic space.

    The church has an octagonal tower with clock faces on 4 sides. In the light-filled interior we saw some Islamic carpets, painted wood pulpit, and the oldest painted altarpiece in Transylvania. Fragments of the original frescoes peeked out from the otherwise austere white plaster. (The frescoes have been covered over since the Reformation, when the original Catholic churches became Protestant.)

    Two men were in the church, armed with lots of professional photographic equipment. I envied them their tripod, not to mention their cameras! (Daniel is an amateur photographer, and told us that had he known of our interest in photography he would have brought his tripod for us to use. If he had, we would probably still be there, shooting pictures!) I went up to talk with the guys, who, luckily for me, spoke excellent English. One of them was a photographer and the other a writer. They were from Germany and had been fascinated by the fortified churches for the past 17 years. They had documented nearly all of the 80 fortified churches over several years of September visits, in the course of working on a book (in English and in German) about the churches. (the book, called Kirchenburgen in Siebenbürge,. Fortified Churches in Transylvania, was published earlier this year, and I have ordered a copy from the German site amazon.de!)

    The fortified church of Harman, located just 7 kilometers away, is similar to Prejmer, but on a somewhat smaller scale. It too was open, and had someone taking admission fees. The church tower is square, with the four little corner spires. Services are still held at the church, and there are little rugs and cushions on the pews, holding spaces for their owners.

    By this point we were very hungry. Our lunch spot was a restaurant (Pafta Bunam) attached to a gas station (Petram). Most of the tables had been pushed together to make one very long table for a baptism party. We managed to get served before the restaurant staff got too tied up with the big party.

    We were finished with our sightseeing in Transylvania, and it was time to drive down to Bucharest, where a big dinner with relatives awaited us. We stopped once. At the Brasov county boundary, we hit the jackpot: we bought acacia honey, and we got a picture of a “Drum Bun” sign. Score!

    A word about Drum Bun:
    Road signs with the words “Drum Bun,” (Romanian for “good travels”) are a common sight when leaving a town, decent sized village, or county. We were on a mission to get a good photograph of one of these signs, but we seemed to never have the cameras handy when we saw one, and never saw one when we were armed and ready.


    The highway goes over the mountains, passing through the towns of Predeal, Busteni and Sinaia, before descending to the flat plains and the oil refineries of Ploesti. This is the main route from Bucharest and the south up to the mountain resort areas, and the roadsides were thick with vendor stalls selling various Romanian crafts.

    The Wallachian architecture is very interesting – and very different from what we saw in Saxon Transylvania and in Maramures. The buildings had projecting bays on the upper floors, with elaborate arched lattice work and little roofs.

    We crossed the 45th latitude! We drove through Romanesti (lots of roadside flower vendors, vegetable shops, and, of course, vulcanizing shops) and Petigrafu (many stands selling brooms, baskets and straw mats.)

    And then, we were back in Bucharest. Daniel dropped us at the hotel. We had truly had a great guide experience with him for 6 days; he did an excellent job of staying flexible to the interests of 3 different people. And he even laughed at our jokes!

    We checked back into the Rembrandt Hotel, again renting the laptop computer. We had less than 30 minutes’ time until we were collected to go to dinner. We ate with about 15 or 20 relatives in a somewhat touristy Romanian restaurant near the Triumphal Arch. The interior was fully decked out with folk art and implements. There was a group of icon paintings on the wall behind my seat. “Russian,” sniffed one of our relatives, “but they figure nobody will notice.”

    I found the food quite good. Soup, a nice cold plate, then a mixed meat plate with amazing grilled sausage. I was seated across from one of Dad’s first cousins and her husband. Neither of them spoke a speck of English (or French or German). They really wanted to tell me about their life under Communism, but I wasn’t getting reliable translation help from the teenaged cousin sitting nearby (he just wanted to ask me about my favorite American TV shows, what kind of car we drive, and tons of other American pop culture info). So that was pretty frustrating. Also, we forgot to bring the tape recorder.

    In the course of the evening I did get to have at least a short conversation with everybody there. One of the young cousins was studying at a German language high school, so we conversed just a bit in German (her English was also quite good). There were a few little speeches and toasts; the relatives said that they have become much more connected with each other because of my father’s interest in them and his visits to see them. (At the meal that we had in Transylvania the week before, a bunch of the cousins had sat at a table compiling charts of family members and their contact information.)

    Everyone sang the Romanian version of “Happy Birthday” to my Dad – his 80th birthday was just one week away. We took lots of pictures before going our separate ways. The evening was too short!

    Photo link (122 pictures):
    share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8DZsmzZuzb-0

    Photo link, fewer photos (42 pictures):
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    OK, so I'm close to winding up this report!

    Sunday, October 1: Bucharest

    Cousin Diana arrived at our hotel right after breakfast and drove us to St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, where we attended services. There was controversy at the time about a huge commercial development under construction next door to the cathedral and the effect it would have on the cathedral. I’m not sure how that has been resolved.

    After church we drove to an obscure little street that we’d spotted on the Bucharest map that was named after some military guy (we had no idea who this was) who shared our last name. This was cause for huge excitement! Mind you we’d found this street about a month before our trip and had hoped to visit it. Diana clearly thought we were nuts, but was kind enough to humor us. We photographed every inch of this one-block-long street, including many pictures of us with the street signs. It was really quite a joke with us, and the street was quite humble (if not downright shabby). A bonus: we saw our last horse and cart of the trip come down this Bucharest street.

    We ate lunch at Casa Mama, which has an extensive outdoor terrace, but unfortunately it was fully reserved on this bright sunny Sunday. We were able to get the last table inside, and we enjoyed our final Romanian meal. Then Diana drove us back to our hotel and it was time to bid her adieu. It was hard to leave Diana, who had done so much to contact relatives and arrange the dinners in Fagaras and Bucharest. She had also been the guide for my father and brother’s 2001 visit to Romania.

    Dad took a late afternoon nap, and Mark and I walked the Lipscani area around our hotel. We walked down to the Dambovita River, and ended up in Gradina Cismagiu, a beautiful park. Everyone in Bucharest was out in the park on that glorious Fall day, rowing in the lake or sitting on the many benches lining the paths. This was the kind of afternoon that cried out for an ice cream, but we didn’t come across any. Mark finally made do with a McFlurry from McDonalds. Oh, the shame! I wasn’t that desperate.

    We enjoyed the streets of Bucharest. Many of the lovely old buildings are being renovated. One example was the beautiful building next door to our hotel which was being redone into a new upscale restaurant. On one little street we stumbled onto the Orthodox church/monastery of Stavropoleus. There was a group of pilgrims praying there. Once the prayers were over, a young Orthodox nun motioned us to come see the church interior before it was locked up. It was like a little jewel box, and we were glad we got to go inside. The adjoining (newer) cloister and garden area is lovely.

    Along our walk we visited some shops and stocked up on Joe wafer cookies, pastries for the next morning’s breakfast, and some ham and cheese pastries for a picnic dinner. If we had more time, we would have gone to the Museum of the Romanian Peasant (which apparently has an excellent craft shop – one cousin gave us some beautiful presents from this shop.)

    That evening we ate our take out savories in the hotel bar with our complimentary drinks. Then Mark and Dad went to sleep and I had a marathon packing session, making sure all of our souvenirs got safely stowed either in carry on or checked luggage. This time I was in the big room and I had most of our luggage spread out all over the floor. We had brought an empty mailing tube and some empty small corrugated boxes with us, and they were very handy for the posters and the breakables. Our little painted eggs stayed in their water bottle packaging. While I packed I uploaded hundreds of our pictures to shutterfly.com. I had just a few short hours to sleep before our 4:45am taxi to the airport.


    Photo link:
    share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8DZsmzZuzUQDg

    Photo link, fewer photos:
    share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8DZsmzZuzUQHw

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    The Saxon fortified church book that I ordered from Germany arrived today, and it is quite good. I think I'll order another one for my brother for Christmas.

    Monday, October 2: home again

    The flights home were largely on time. Security was astonishingly tight at CDG; we must have showed our passports/boarding cards 12 times in the connection between planes – and we stayed airside! We still joke about the very haughty woman security screener. We got stuck on a hot stuffy standing room only bus on the flightline while our plane received its finishing touches. And there was a busload of Mumbai passengers dropped at our plane by mistake. Once this was ironed out we had an uneventful trip.

    Back in ATL, we truthfully answered “yes” to the Customs questions about bringing in food, and having been on a farm. This led to spraying of our shoes and thorough inspections of all our luggage. Our honey was permitted, but our painted eggs were discovered and then confiscated because they were from a country with avian bird flu. Not that we were hiding them - that was the first we’d HEARD about eggshells being a problem. The inspectors weren’t even sure themselves, and had to look it up in a huge binder of regulations.

    This is the conclusion I wrote when I first got home:
    I almost cried to leave my 7 little eggs behind. But at least I still had 3700 pictures! And a lifetime of memories of Romania – unchanged in so many ways from when my grandfather left 100 years ago, and yet racing to embrace its future on the European stage.

    What I’d say now:
    The most important thing I brought back was the satisfaction of having shared this trip to the land of our heritage with my brother and my father – as it turned out to be one of the last purely enjoyable things Dad was able to do. We had savored every moment of the trip together.

    It was sad at times for me to write this report, but also it was healing. Thanks for reading along, and I hope some of this information is of use to someone!

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    Nancy - I have enjoyed your report so much and just loved your pictures. I definately consider this one of the best trip reports I have ever read.

    My very favorite picture day was the Sept 27 batch- Maramures to Cluj-Napoca. I have looked at them a few times, they just seem to capture the flavor of your report so well.

    I am sure this trip only represents a tiny portion of the loving memories you have of your dad, but how nice that you were able to share such a special journey with him so close to the end of his life.


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    noe, This book will become THE family treasure.
    re: Elie Wiesel
    There's a book by Vivette Samuel, a Holocaust memoir RESCUING THE CHILDREN
    with a forward by Elie Wisel.
    He writes "It was the OSE that in June 1945, took charge of the four hundred children of Buchenwald{including me}"

    OSE=Oeuvre de secours aux enfants

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    Thanks SO much, cigalechanta, LCBoniti and HappyCheesehead!

    The walk we took on September 27 may be our favorite part of the sightseeing days. It was a good mix of people and scenery and buildings and animals! We took hundreds of photos on that walk, and I never get tired of seeing them - it brings back every step of the morning.

    I probably didn't make it clear that the pictures I posted were taken by all of us (just a few by my dad, but Mark and I were just snapping away!) Mark's pictures are a bit better composed, but since we shared cameras we can't always tell.

    Now that I've posted the trip report, the book is calling me. Every time I work with the photos and the journal, I am thankful again for the amazing gift that we received in taking this trip with each other.

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    well noe847: i still have goosebumps as soon as i read your post. my father just passed away 2 months ago today, and i just learned he was from romania from some relatives i didn't know. precisely from a town called bacau (pronounced ba-kew) in moldavia. he kept his prewar days a secret because of the emotional turmoil of the memories.
    so, i'm planning to go and visit the town, and what was my grandfather's farm. and i would love to see the country and get in touch with my newly discovered origins... i bookmarked your post, and if you know or anybody can tell me more about moldavia i would appreciate it very much... thanks, lavici

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