Rural Romania

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Beautiful Transylvania

Rural Romania – natural beauty

Transylvania is a discrete province of rural Romania, surrounded by a horseshoe of mountains. With the ambiance of the swiss alps it retains a medieval character to its countryside and the language has the musical lilt of Italian.

Astonishingly, Transylvania’s most famous fictional character, Count Dracula, doesn’t actually feature much here ‘He’s not real!’ was the explanation I was given for this. I knew that.

I was lucky enough to get a place on a PRIDE adult education trip to Transylvania. PRIDE is the acronym for the Partnership for Rural Improvement and Development in Europe, and is supported by the EU Erasmus Plus programme.
The itinerary focuses on  the issues surrounding sustainability in the mountains of rural Romania. It was my first trip to this part of Europe.

rural romania
Me and my cow

Travelling to Transylvania

We travelled from Luton airport on Wizzair, a Hungarian based low cost airline. We arrived at the Romanian city of Cluj Napoca and met up with our hosts Martin and Monica.

Our guest house was in Alba which we reached via the rather picturesque town of Turda (make sure you roll the ‘r’!) We had our first Transylvanian meal which was substantial and delicious. Portion size is not an issue in Transylvania – you will not go hungry here. The food here was one of the highlights for me – more of which later.

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A light lunch

The first night we experienced an amazing storm over the mountains with huge forks of lightening and booming thunder which went on for several hours. We got up to watch it as it was so spectacular. Dracula would have loved it.

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It was a dark and stormy night…

Romania – its communist legacy

The next day we met some archaeology students who were on a different Erasmus programme. They were excavating what looked to me, like the foundations for a small swimming pool, in the middle of a field.

The head of the dig, an archaeology professor, started telling me about his previous life in Communist Romania. He was quite emotional as he described the fear and loss of freedom during this time. This was a dark time in the country’s history, under the dictatorship of the evil dictator Nicoleae Ceausescu. He was executed in 1989. The professor told me that Romania has a lot of catching up to do with the rest of Europe.

Romania remains a very poor country with limited job prospects for young people. More people have left Romania than any other Eastern European country to find work elsewhere.There is a big road building programme going on here which should facilitate better transport links and tourism.

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Consideration of the excavation

Transylvania – no fences required!

Rural Romania doesn’t have a lot of fences. All along the roadsides are cows and sheep grazing untethered and being incredibly well behaved. Fences aren’t used here because there’s always someone watching the live stock. There is mutual bond between man and animal and so they don’t wander off.

This bond has long since been lost with the adoption of industrial farming methods in the Western world. As Martin our host said ‘The sheep love the shepherd – they’d do anything for him!’ Goats are a bit more naughty apparently. I can imagine that would be the case.

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An alpine idyll

Transylvania – a rural lifestyle

We headed off for Rimet village in the Transylvanian mountains where we stayed in the school hostel. The school once had 600 pupils but now had only five – an indication of how these rural agricultural villages and ways of living are dying out.

Our expert guide Monica Oprean is very knowledgeable about the area. Her specialism is the ancient mountain hamlets hereabouts, and the unique steep pitch roofed houses which are still made as they were in medieval times here.

The locals make a special kind of old style haystack here. Fields are still harvested by hand, and their distinctive pointed profiles are dotted all across the emerald landscape.

rural romania
Romanian haystack style

Rural Romania – a preserved medieval landscape

Romania is alone in the European union in still having some functioning medieval landscapes. These have great cultural social and environmental significance, but are struggling economically. The challenge is to preserve the unique mountain landscape, while opening it up for use by visitors in a way that respects and protects the villages and their way of life.

The mountains here really are stunning. Covered in thousands of Alpine flowers and thick virgin forest they are home to bears, wolves and lynx. It reminded me of a scene out of the Sound of Music.  The lonely Goatherd became the theme song of the trip.

“Folks in a town that was quite remote heard,
fresh from the throat of the lonely Goatherd..” etc etc

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Our house

Transylvania – reconstructing a village house.

In a small village one of the old style local houses is being reconstructed. Our task was to try lime and sand rendering to finish off the rough interior walls. We also created some lime paints tinted with natural products.

Mixing the plaster took a little while to get right. There was a lot of experimentation with the consistency of the lime and sand mix but once we got into the swing of things, it was great fun.

Our pedestrian efforts were rather shown up by the appearance of Marius, an expert local builder. He slapped the grey mixture onto the rough walls with an easy flourish. Marius covered our mistakes up quickly and professionally while giving us some helpful instruction at the same time.

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Getting plastered

How to make your own paint

Experimenting with creating natural paint pigments is fun too.  Charcoal added to the lime makes a sort of dark air force grey/blue. Egg yolk makes a lovely buttery yellow and chewed up plum creates a light apple green colour. The addition of horse manure  results in a  sort of predictable browny green hue.

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Home made paints – who needs Dulux?

We stopped for a well earned Romanian beer which was actually very good. The arrival of the beer truck at this remote location was quite an event. One of the top Romanian brands is Ursus – the bear.

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The beer truck is leaving!

After a hard days work, dinner back at the school was substantial as usual. Spicy sausages, cabbage, salad lots of fresh bread. The local wine here is very good too, and we also got to try some of the Mayor’s home made plum brandy which I became particularly partial to.

Taste of Transylvania

It had been a long day and as I fell asleep in my bunk bed full of one of the school’s remaining pupil’s cuddly toys left here over the holidays, I thought that I was going to like rural Romania.