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Driving in Romania

Driving through a land of kind people

I have been lucky enough that my job allowed me to travel quite a

Surdesti

lot on the unknown roads of Romania, from south to north. Most of my experiences were fun, others impressive, some others quite hilarious. It was the case when I drove  a rent a car to drive in Maramures,  the north of Romania, the most amazing land, unique for its people and magic atmosphere.
It was late autumn when I decided to visit Maramures to check hotels around. I was running my own travel agency and I was targeting a special niche and checking out hotels was a must.  I went by night train tup o Baia Mare as the drive is long and tiring and I booked a rent a car, from the only company in town planning to drive around.

It went as planned. I took the car and I  start travelling right in the morning. The GPS was my flag, will was my main road. I travelled the first day trying to reach all the UNESCO heritage churches, the incredible ancestor buildings aroused in wood, worked piece by piece by anonymous peasants.

Driving in Romania, driving through amazement

All set. Car was working just fine and, one small detail, the car had the regional plate numbers. After I left Barsana monastery ( I really recommend to get there). I kind of got lost. The GPS seemed also in a big fog, indicating stupid routs. Hence I stopped next to an old man, an authentic local peasant. He spoke a sweet, slow rhythm Romanian language. I asked him directions and when he realised that I was not a local he started wondering: “Where are you from?” I answered shortly that I am from Bucharest, 650 km away. “But.. . you have local plate numbers. Are you married with a local?” I explained him shortly that I just rented the car  to drive across the country side. He did not understand how I could paid money to rent a car and he expressed his amazement  in the same slow manner.  He did also not understood how a “girl” is left  to drive across the country all on her own. He had that spirit of peace and wisdom, he balanced every single word. His concern was a parent-like worry, moreover he was preoccupied to help me find my way and to warn me that there plenty of “troubled people” and to pay attention.
I carried on my travel and I reached the northest point of Sapanta, the Merry Cemetery. Careless woman like I parked into a hole. Nasty one! Enormous! Huge! Scary! And… embarrassing enough … I could not get out of the nasty hole. It was a rainy day and the mud around the car made my mission impossible and not in a 007 sense! I was red  as hell when I just got out to ask for some help. It was this woman, I will always remember her, dressed in popular costume, heavy, but with a kind face. She just shouted twice: “You Gica, You Ioane! Come and help the girl” and the entire village was around me to push the car. Finally the mission was possible! I checked the rented car, everything was just fine, except the dirt around it.

Driving through Maramures – Romania,  return to the roots

I carried on driving southwards, back to accommodation and meaning to vision one more UNESCO church. I noticed one wooden church as most of Maramures are, I kept gazing at it. An old woman, followed by two goats asked me if me if I want a shortcut to the church through her yard. I agreed. Once I stepped in her in yard she invited me to see her house. I was pleased so, here I am Alice in Maramures land discovering the traditions on the front door, not on the keyhole! The house was surprising beautiful! SImple, clean, made out of wood, adorned with traditional carpets. It was food for sore soul. Well, she told the story of every single carpet and traditional decoration and she ended asking me: “Would you like to have some palinca??” If course I refused, I know the meaning of palinca! I left the place  all happy and amused.
I drove back my rent a car full of joy listening local folklore music, blessing the people who made my day happier. At the time I handed in the car, I spoke with the owner shortly about my beautiful experiences, omitting the “blonde” mistakes.

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Day trip in Maramures

Day trip in Historical Maramures

MARAMURES -Surdesti Wooden Church
MARAMURES -Surdesti Wooden Church

Day trip in Historical Maramures

departure from Baia Mare/Cluj Napoca

  • Surdesti wooden church in 1721 one of the eight churches included in UNESCO World Heritage Circuit and highest wooden church in the world 72m
  • Wooden church Budeşti – there is a collection of icons painted on glass. There is the  armor of Pintea  the Brave, a Robin Hood of Maramures
  • continue along the valley Cosau the holidays, the next village, where you can admire some hand carved wooden gates Maramures style and extraordinary old local  crafts: whirlpool, Horinca mill and grain mill, all functional
  •     Barsana Monastery – dating from the seventeenth century but demolished by the communist regime and rebuilt on the old settlement residents of old monastery
  • The Memorial of Communism  at the Sighet Memorial – former communist prison where they were incarcerated and have found the end most of the interwar Romanian intellectuals;
  •  Meal at one of the many restaurants with traditional food from Sighet (recommended Marmatia)
  • Merry Cemetery in Sapinta – these unique wooden works and poems engraved on the tombs in the village cemetery crosses made ​​by a folk artist named Stan Ioan Patrascu  since 1935
  • return to Sighet 18 km and Berbesti can admire a beautiful wooden cross built by unknown local village dating centuries back
  • Wooden church from Desesti – UNESCO circuit paintings with biblical images interior well preserved throughout the walls and even on the ceiling of the church
    back in Baia Mare along the Mara Valley, crossing Gutii mountains the most important access road to Historical Maramures

 

Includes: itinerary as described, car, driver/ guide.

Notes:

This tour can be made entirely during summer, when day is longer.

There is a local airport in Baia Mare with flights to and from Bucharest.

The closest international airport is Cluj Napoca on a shorter route or overnight during itinerary. Transfers  and trip can be done upon request for tourists lodged in Cluj Napoca .

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Maramures and its places – I

 Maramures and its amazing places – I

 

 

I just came a while ago from Maramures, the most Nordic point on Romanian map and this  is an experience should be shared, but mostly to be lived. I went to find some accommodation to suite my taste: traditional, but still having good facilities. What started to be work, it was joy and fun from one end to the other.

 

As you reach Baia Mare, the “capital” of Maramures, even as Romanian I felt in another world. People are calmer and they seem not to be in a permanent rush as people from southern side of Romania. The small historical centre of Baia Mare is clean and coquette, the main historical buildings watch over the pedestrian area. This central place is a return in the past; even people are well connected to modern times. The Tower of St Stefan is around 50 m tall and seems to watch over the city. Part of the St. Stephan cathedral, the building  was started in 14 th century by John of Hunedoara as a sign of victory against Turks, the tower was finished only in mid 15th Century during Mateius Corvinus. It is made from rough blocks of river stones and in 17 century, while rebuilding the tower, a clock was added. Weather, lightning and time left us only this tower from entire cathedral.

 

Baia Mare Old center
Baia Mare Old center
ST Stefan tower- Baia Mare
ST Stefan tower- Baia Mare

On the opposite- south corner of Old city, imposing in its baroque style, stays the Romano- Catholic Cathedral (former Jesuit). Built in the first quarter of 18 century by Jesuit priests, the beautiful Cathedral remains a point of attraction.  The butcher bastion is the only fortification tower remains from seven bastions built around medieval city built during between 14-16th centuries.

Historical buildings are spread around the old center, colorful and with personality, contrasting with Industrial tower ( the tallest building in Romania 351.5 m) situated in the opposite side of the city, of course in industrial area.

As you leave the city to the historical Maramures, the scenery changes and bits and pieces of the history seems to be alive. Modern times brought their contribution, but there is an impressive touch of beautiful to pass through archaic rural reminiscence. Hay stacks are spread here and there, locals, wearing traditional hats bring the hay from hills on carts pulled by car, cow herd’s crop on the grassland around villages.

 

MARAMURES -Surdesti Monastery
MARAMURES -Surdesti Monastery

 

MARAMURES Surdesti - traditional Stoop

The Monastery of Surdesti (part of UNESCO Heritage since 1999) is a local presence by its wooden tower, 54 m tall. Besides its tower, one of the tallest wooden buildings in the world, the innocent rural look, the simplicity of this beautiful church it makes it more beautiful. There is no gold, arcades or excessive stylization. A local skilled constructor in wood, Ion Macarie, built in 1766 this church for his community. The  traditional entrance, a small stoop, shows also the constructor mastery of working the wood.  It incredible high, I should admit. But also impressive about this church is its simplicity and still elaborated aspect. The village around it contributes to serenity that this place brings it to the passer by.  I just felt that every church should look like this: impressive and still simple.

 

The gate of Surdesti
The gate of Surdesti

If you want to experience Maramures you can try a day trip 

 

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Top Places in Romania

Top  Places in Romania

TRANSFAGARASAN HIGHWAY
TRANSFAGARASAN HIGHWAY
Sarmizegetusa
Sarmizegetusa
Sibiu
Sibiu
Peles Castle
Peles Castle

I explore recommends

We made a top of 10 places to visit in Romania.  This is not an official top, but it is rather our recommendation starting from our subjective point of view. Our preferences is not necessarily in this order and we excluded Bran Castle – a main attraction in Romania- as everybody knows about “Dracula Castle” and there are plenty of information all over the internet. Actually,  the castle is not quite connected with Vlad the Impaller, the one who inspired the novel fictional character. In fact, Bran Castle is more connected to the Royal family who had this castle starting with 1920.

  • Sarmizegetusa Regia – it is the cradle of Romania, the ancient land of Romanian ancestors, Dacians. If you want to see the true roots of Romanians this is the place one should visit.

Sarmizegetusa Regia was the capital of Dacia, the place where military, religious and political decisions were taken. The fortress was built on Orastie Mountains at an altitude of  1.200 m, as measure of defensive strategy against  invaders. If the fortress walls are massive, the temple area is impressive and enigmatic.  The “Andesite Sun” is a proof that locals were familiar with geometry and astronomy, the large circle in the sanctuary area makes one consider a resemblance with Stone Hedge constructed in timber posts.

  • Maramures and Sapanta Peri

Maramures is the core of Romanian traditions and Romanism. The rural side, unveils its beauty and people with their customs for centuries are an integral part of this amazing beauty.

Sapanta – Merry Cemetery is widely known for its funeral monuments with naïve paintings and the charades describing the life of the person buried there. Sapanta-Peri Monastery is the highest wooden monastery placed in a beautiful landscape.

  • Sfinx.

I might be subjective about as I have plenty of memories connected with the Sfinx, memories about beautiful people met in an amazing setting.  There are stories about energies surrounding the Sfinx. I cannot measure those, but I can confirm the monumental feeling you have being there.

The Sfinx ( read like Sphinx) in Carpathians, a rock monument watching over Bucegi mountains,  is a reason of controversy. While natural science researchers say is natural monument created by erosion, spiritual people consider this monument as made by evolved people, like Marchausi ones, being an energetic place used for developed creatures.

The fact is the Sfinx, situated at 2216 m altitude, resembles with the Sphinx of Giza and has similar size. It is 8 m long and 12 m height, the Sfinx mysteriously watches over the Bucegi mountains.

  • Sighisoara.

This is a place where I always come back with pleasure. It does not matter if it is hot like staying in bread oven or freezing that I shiver in my own boots, Sighisoara gives that feeling of belonging. Sighisoara seems universal and timeless.

This beautiful citadel situated in Mures county, aside Tarnava Mare River,  brings back the colorful life of medieval times. It is one of the few inhabited citadels in Europe and also the place where Vlad the Impaller was born. Vlad the Impaller is the 15-th century Wallachian ruler who inspired Bram Stocker character of Dracula, even if fiction has little to do with the real figure.

The citadel used to be inhabited by merchants and the aspect of the narrow streets send you back in centuries and really imagine how this beautiful citadel once looked like. The Clock Tower watching over the town leaves you under impression the time stood still over Sighisoara.

Other places to visit in Sighisoara? You don’t get bored here, I insure you: there are still 8 other towers  to see ( excluding the Clock tower), all of them after merchant names: Goldsmiths’, Tins’ tower, Rope makers’ tower… Then  one cannot miss The New School places majestically on the top of a 400 m hill, edifice that can be reached by climbing 300 flights staircase, cover in wood ( this stairs were build in 1642).

There are more to say and to do in Sighisoara, but we will stop about here.

  • Sibiu

It is mainly know as former European capital in 2007. What people know less about this amazing city is that Top Forbes considered it in top 10 most idyllic places to live in or the fact that Samuel von Brukenthal was initiator of complex development and erudition in that part of Transylvania.

Besides the two beautiful Squares sending you back to Medieval times, the Lier bridge  or Catholic Church, the former capital of Transylvania offers a grandiose scenery to Fagaras mountains. Astra- Dumbrava Village Museum  is a proof of Romanian rural development and uniqueness.

  • Huniadi Castle

I would start with the feeling the castle left over my senses. It was as if I was seeing a fairy tale movie and I was expecting Prince charming to appear on the bridge. Actually, numerous prince charming and princesses, dressed in medieval clothes animate the Castle, so my expectations or any other tourist’s aren’t futile.

Initially it was a fortress  that John’s Corvinus father received from Sigismund, the king of Hungary.  It was John ( Ioan/ Iancu) who transformed the fortress into a beautiful castle in 1446. The drawbridge welcomes tourists today, but it is obvious the defense purposes for which it firstly was designed for. The double fortified walls also indicate turbulent history and requirement for supplementary protection measures.

In spite of all these, the Castle is charming. The combines style, mainly gothic with subtitle Renaissance add on, the colorful top and  stone carvings around adorned balconies or myriad windows bring a sense of gentleness on this massive building.   The towers, either circular or squared, survey over Zlasti river. Some of this towers were used as dungeons, most likely in one of these towers Vlad the Impaller was imprisoned.

  • Sinaia and Peles Castle– Named also “the Perl of Carpathians”,  Sinaia is a treasure itself. Placed like 120 km away from Bucharest, Sinaia offers to the tourist a beautiful view and loads of mountain sports activities, from hiking during summer to downhill skiing as winter sport.

If you get there, don’t you miss Peles Castle, a summer residence commissioned by Carol I st, one of the most beautiful Castles of Europe.

Visit also Franz Joseph and Saint Anne Cliffs for a beautiful view of Prahova Valley.

Also visit George Enescu Memorial house (Vila Luminis),  place where our great composer chose to create his unique pieces of art.

Just 10 km away, there is Busteni where you can take  trip to the Sfinx.

  • Horezu Pottery

Even if the Pottery of Horezu was included in UNESCO intangible heritage  last year, the traditional pottery is a Romanian heritage for generations of mastery. The regional painted cock is a landmark on every single piece of pottery and natural colors are  secrets kept within the community.

Pottery  is not the only attraction in this. Horezu is a small town placed close to Capataniimountains ( Translated as Skull Mountains). People enjoying caving can explore around 25 km away Polovragi and Pestera Muierii ( Women cave); just in the next commune tourist remains amazed in front of growing stones; the old boyar houses in Maldaresti give the tourist of contemplation and history, the monasteries around ( including Hurezi- UNESCO heritage) a reason for spiritual meditation.

Just a short drive away is also Buila – Vanturarita natural reservation a reason for trekking and admiring the beautiful nature of Oltenia.

  • Danube Delta

My fist encounter with Danube Delta it was during my teenage period. My child eyes opened widely at those beautiful sunsets when only a rare bird could only disturb the red sun. My eyes are still wide opened and my words are not enough when it comes to speak about Danube Delta ( UNESCO Heritage).

The wilderness around it, the countless number of species of birds, fish,  insects or plants; even the villages where modern times are far away, but most of it the amazing setting.

  • Transfagarasan – Named by the Jeremy Clarkson as “the most beautiful road in the world”, competing with Stelvio or other famous roads, Transfagarasan is modern time monument and, no doubt, one of the most enjoyable roads in the world to drive on

Also known as DN 7C , starting from Arefu in Wallachia  ending in Cartisoara, the road sums up 91 km, 830 bridges, 27 viaducts and there were used about 6500 tones of dynamite.

To be continued…