Szentjobb to Bela Crkva, June 3 – 13, 2017
Just a quick note: we will be writing the names of towns and food in Hungarian (or English in some cases) here, in Transylvania. About a century ago, some very dramatic border changes occurred in the Carpathian basin, which for Hungary meant a huge territorial loss. This resulted in many Hungarians ending up on the other side of Hungary’s new border, and – although it’s part of Romania today – you’ll still find pockets of Hungarians within Transylvania. There is much emotion involved in the case; their hearts have kept their identity, generation after generation.
Erdély (Transylvania), especially Székelyföld (Eastern Transylvania) is always an absolute delight to visit; for it’s people with their unconditional generosity, and it’s breath-taking landscape. As we neared the border, horse and cart became almost as common on the road as cars, the people intuitive with their use of limited resources and the unity as a village is strong. It was getting late by the time we crossed the border and not being too sure on where to stay, we rushed a decision to stay on a paddock, out of site by passing cars, just off a quiet little road.
The days (and nights) were beginning to get stifling, so we didn’t have much option but to leave the little sliding window by our heads open. We leave the curtain closed so the early summer sunrises don’t seep in, and lucky for this, as this next morning we were woken by the hum of an aggressive wasp, hovering outside and trying to find his way through in. Paul stirred, and through the curtain attempted to bat the little intruder away. He was a fighter, and returned a few times before giving up. Much better than coffee to get you going in the morning!
As we were making breakfast, the farmer who’s paddock we’d parked on turned up. A little embarrassed, we cooked him some breakfast and took it to him as he stopped to fix his tractor. But he wouldn’t accept it. Instead, speaking Hungarian with Zsu, he was quick to invite us for wine at his house. It was 10am! We accepted this offer and spent the next two days, over the Pentecost weekend, experiencing the life the lovely and generous people of Szentjobb live; meeting the extended family, friends, picking cherries and strawberries, eating parasztsonka and the very traditional töltött paradicsomos káposzta (either sweet or sour cabbage filled with pork served with tomato purée) and drinking the wine they produce and cellar on their hill.
We won’t waffle on here about this too much, but see more here.
Before we left the village a few days later, we paid a visit to the orphanage where the farmer’s wife, Éva, works (when she isn’t tending their crops or looking after the animals). Looking after 10 troubled kids of different ages and backgrounds, it is no easy task! Well behaved while we were there, they drew pictures, danced and played board games with us.
We left the town, to the shouts and screams of the kids, headed for the Tordai hasadék (Turda gorge). A late arrival meant just as we set the awning up we heard the rumble of thunder, coming and going, until at it’s best it started on our left and worked a full half circle around us, crashing and shaking the muggy afternoon air away. The lightning was equally as impressive, lighting up the early evening sky in angry flashes.
The country towns and villages in the Székelyföld area are truly phenomenal. They have their own identity from village to village, even if only a few kilometres apart. The materials they use to build their houses are those which are easily accessible for the village. The building and any maintenance they do themselves is crafty and unique. The Székelys have always been very smart people, possessing the ability and skills for sustainable living; animal husbandry, agriculture, folk culture and craftsmanship.
The colours are vibrant and the atmosphere is welcoming. Many, many houses have the traditional Székely kapu (gates). Hand-made, these gates represent the unique patterns of this ethnical groups heritage, who have lived in and around the Carpathian Mountain range in Eastern Transylvania (Hargita, Kovászna and Maros countys) for centuries.
Heading to the Gyilkos-tó (Red lake), we made a quick stop at a campsite to see if we could fill our water tank. The man was gracious and friendly, insisting we fill with spring water, even though this meant filling buckets first, before pouring it through a funnel, bit by bit, as we could not get the van through the muddy paddock to the spring. He helped us, in the rain, to fill our 70L tank manually. It was such clean water compared to our last fill of chlorinated town water!
The weather continued to grace us with clouds, rain and thunder-storms. It rained and rained and rained. Along with all our clothes and towels being wet, the gradual signs of dampness in the van were also driving our spirits downwards.
Struggling to find a park, we eventually just pulled up on the side of the road in a quiet little town outside of Csíkszereda. The rain continuing to pelt down, we managed to weather the storm tucked up inside the van, helped greatly by gin and elderflower shrubs, the amusement of a passing Transylvanian stag-do on horse and cart and a shepherd walking his cows down the muddy and pot holey road we’d decided to park next to.
For every van dweller, there is the dreaded ‘police knock’. For us this was a case of seeing flashing blue and white lights outside our window. Curious as to what is was – in this rain drenched and sleepy little village – we popped the curtain open just as the siren wailed. The cops wanted to talk. All in Hungarian again, they just wanted to ensure we were safe; leaving the number for the police station down the road, and making a point of telling us we needed to report our whereabouts to them when we arrived.
Next day an early start saw us make Lake St Ann, where we housed up here for the night, enjoying the surrounding peace and scenery before heading on for the Cozia National Park, (very briefly) via the touristy and expensive Dracula’s castle in Bran, just out of Brassov.
It seemed the National Park was very much inaccessible by car, so we left for the surrounding area. It wasn’t long before we found the spot; just off the side of the road, clearly a corner piece of someone’s land, but just grass, on top of a hill surrounded by valleys and mountains. Before long, the farmer who owned the land was walking his cows past. In a mixture of Romanian – which we understood none, English – which he understood none and sign language – which is debatable if anyone understood anything of, we established it was OK for us to stay and we made our best attempt to thank him.
An hour or so later, he returned with a bottle of fresh milk, still warm from the cow. He babbled on in Romanian, as we tried to decipher the meaning, before he left again.
A little while later, as the sun set and the moon rose, he appeared again, this time with a whole large wheel of ‘brânza in coaja de brad’ – literally ‘cheese in tree bark’ for us. Paul wrapped his arms around the shepherd and through all our combined telepathy we came to learn this was a specialty of the region. We offered him a beer and gave him the rest of our elderflower cordial before parting ways.
You can read more about brânza in coaja de brad here.
Following a spectacular sunrise the following morning, and a visit from the shepherd, who had dressed himself up very smartly for the Sunday church service, we headed on towards the Domogled National Park. Here we found a lovely little spot, past a cute little village and up a dead-end gravel road, off the beaten track, (discovering the following day) not 50m away from an over-sized pile of cow shit (which probably explains the fly invasion we had as the sun set). We saw hornets – some who came dangerously close to entering the van, were given a lovely lily (which, for the next week, day by day would open new flowers for us) by one of the local farmers and watched the slow moving, glittering fire flies.