Romania is most famous for beautiful Transylvania, but if you want to be thrown back into time, don’t leave the Maramures area in the northern part of the country behind. With its pretty scenery and authenthic villages, it is a very pleasant place to stay for a couple of days.
Leaving Sibiu behind, I took the bus to Cluj-Napoca again. Having the nicest bus driver, who screamed at me every time I asked a question (and screaming back at him at one point, but not too much because I didn’t want to let myself kicked out of the bus), it was a really pleasant five hour bus ride. My plan was to take a direct bus to Sighetu Marmatiei, but somehow there was no information on the station itself, so I figured an extra night in Cluj was not so bad and stayed in a hostel for a night. Looking on internet for a hostel in Sighet, where I wanted to stay in Maramures, I noticed that the hostel I wanted to go to was fully booked. A bit strange, as it was the end of november. I asked the guy at the hostel in Cluj and helped me to eventually book another hostel in Sighet.
So, the next day I decided to take a late afternoon bus because I booked up front anyway and wandered around Cluj for a couple of hours (why didn’t I take any pictures there?). After a couple of hours I took my stuff from the hostel and the bus took me to Maramures. At the end of november, it is getting dark early and arriving at half past ten in the evening, meant that I needed to find my way in the dark in a place I didn’t know. Looking at google maps beforehand, I figured the hostel I was staying was quite easy to find, laying on the edge of a big road. That happened to be a big mistake.
First of all, the bus dropped me somewhere at the other side of the city and nobody in the bus could tell me where I needed to go because nobody could speak any english. I knew which way to walk, so after a while a reached the centre and took a cab to my hostel. Guess what? No hostel. The cab driver didn’t know the hostel either, so I decided to walk for a while.
Eventually I found a motel on the side of the road, so I got in and asked if they knew. The moment I walked into the lobby and greeted the employees they went all silent and looked at me like I was some kind of criminal and just glared at me for a couple of minutes. I felt really welcome! It was quite awkward. I don’t think they were used to foreigners at that motel, let alone a woman all by herself. They didn’t know the hostel, so I gave them a call instead. A woman picked up the phone, I asked about the reservation and she replied: “No English!” and hung up. Hello, I made a reservation! The least you can do is being friendly about it. I called again, the same woman picked up the phone and gave me the same response. Clearly, a friendly conversation was too much too ask for.
Fortunately for me, I happened to stand in the coziest motel ever with the friendliest staff. So I booked a room there for a night. The only room they had for the night, was a room where the heating was broken and it was very cold according to the lady from the motel. Knowing the heating conventions in Romania after a while, I figured that it propably wouldn’t be so bad. But I decided to play the part and ended up staying in the room for half the price.
The next day I went on a search for the hostel I originally wanted to stay and was booked full according to the website. After a while I found it. A big house owned by an older couple who used a part of the house as a hostel. Very nice! I asked if I could still book for a couple of nights. They glared at me for a while and the man responded that they had no visitors for months. No idea why the website said it was fully booked, but at least they had a room for me. The central heating hadn’t been on for a while, because it was very cold inside. But having a whole room for myself for a good off seasoned price made it a good deal.
Off course, I locked myself in the first afternoon and had to be saved by a farmer who happened to walk by when I was trying to climb down through the window (which was located on the first floor). And off course, later he made clear that I didn’t lock myself in at all and just couldn’t get the door open properly. At least he had a good laugh that day.
I think I was the only tourist there at the moment, so my only friend here was this cutie.
The reason I came to Maramures was because a lot of people told me to visit the Merry Cemetery in Sapanta, a village near Sighetu Marmatiei. I think that was worth the trip! The whole cemetery exsists of beautifully blue painted crosses and little paintings of the deceiced, made by a artist named Dumitru Pop. Unfortunately there was no English translations of the stories on there, but it tells the life story of the person in a funny, almost sarcastic, way. It was merry indeed! I never left a graveyard wih a smile, but now I did.
For a bit more background information you can visit the website of the Romanian Tourism board.
When I went back to the main street in the village I saw my bus passing by. Nobody could give me any information on what time the next one would come, so I had my first hitch hiking experience here. Which wasn’t that bad looking back at it, because it’s a common thing to do over there. I am thinking of doing it more often as well, as it is a cheap way of transport.
Cross border cycling
The next day I decided to go for a bike ride, although it was very cold. Still, is was a beautiful day and the sun was shining, so I rented this pink beauty and went for an almost three hour ride. Mostly through the village, a bit through nature. But then I remembered Sighet is very close to the border with the Ukraine. You have to cross the river to get to Solotvyne and this one is one of the border crossings where you can go by foot or bicycle.
So, I went up to the north part of the city and went to the border. I never crossed a border with a mountain bike, so that was a new experience. When it was my turn, the douanier couldn’t speak any English, but really wanted to know what I was going to do in the Ukraine. “Just take a look around”, I replied while I was signing to my bike that I left across the road. That clearly wasn’t good enough. After ten minutes (and lots of annoyed people behind me) I decided to just smile sweetly while I remembered something about a sanatorium in the village. Using that excuse I finally I could get in, took my bike and got a warm welcome of some angry looking guards with fur hats and big guns.
Soon I figured out that I should be really happy with the mountain bike I had and not a normal one, because the roads there were so bad! There were two big normal roads, but other than that it was just stones and potholes. But it was a nice adventure anyway. And the little dog, my personal guide who walked by me for a while, was cute.
After an hour and a half, trying to locate the sanatorium but not succeeding, I went back to the border again. The same guards that looked so angry before, where really nice all of a sudden and greeted me a good day when a left. Apperantly it was a bit suspicious that I went only for an hour and a half and was questioned again for 15 minutes. Maybe it would of been more convenient to know a bit more Ukrainian or Russian except for Nazdravlje.
A well, it was an interesting day. (:
So, Maramures in november. It was raw, I had the idea that I was the only tourist, it was a bit lonely, not a lot of people could speak english, it was cold. I wouldn’t recommend the place in that time of year. But, I do think it is great at the end of summer. And the hostel was nice! Despite sounding a bit sarcastic in this post, I still thought it was a very nice trip anyway. Would come back here in another time of year.
So, if you are looking for a couple of days in a more rural authenthic setting where time stood still: