Romania part 5
Daniel, Paul, and I walk to a restaurant adjacent to the gas station to grab a bite to eat before we continue our journey to Viscri. The three of us enjoy conversing with one another as we eat our lunch and one of the subjects we discuss is visiting the village where the refugees that Paul’s parents brought to Alma in 1957 had lived before WWII. The Preidts were German Saxons that lived in Romania prior to Mr. Preidt being conscripted into the German army. The family became refugees in Austria after the war ended. Paul said the Preidt’s were like a second set of parents to him the fifteen years they worked for his parents. Daniel uses his phone to google the location of Drausen and decides that visiting the village today makes sense because Drausen isn’t that far from our destination village of Viscri.
We crossed into Transylvania shortly before we met up with Daniel and the countryside was changing from mountains and forest to more open landscape. As we travel farther into Transylvania the rolling hills look similar to eastern Kansas. I must admit it makes me a little bit homesick for the Flint Hills of Kansas. The other difference from Maremures and Bucovina is we are seeing a lot of modern agriculture in Transylvania. Yes, there are some people cutting hay by hand or using horses in the fields but there are also hay sheds with big square bales stacked in them and round bales sitting in the hay fields. Near the village of Drausen a tractor with a front mounted swather and two side mounted swathers is cutting alfalfa! That is a rig that can cut down a lot of hay in a hurry!
Daniel drives through the small village of Drausen and pulls the Ford to a stop next to the fortified church where the Preidt’s would have attended services. The three of us walk around the stone wall that surrounds the fortified church. We reach one section of the wall that is leaning heavily towards the street and Paul comments that the ancient wall won’t be standing much longer. Fortified churches are unique to Europe and in Translvania they were built mainly by German Saxons who were invited to come to Hungary (Transylvania belonged to Hungary at this time) to help defend the country from attacks by the Turks. The churches were the largest and tallest buildings in the villages and were always built on a hilltop which allowed for a clear view of the surrounding countryside. The churches had at least one outer stone wall plus the bell towers had shooting slits incorporated in them for defense. The courtyard and church were a large enough area to shelter all the people of the village when they were under siege.
As we continue our inspection we walk by a woman standing in her yard and Daniel asks her if it is possible to tour the church. The woman’s replies that touring the church is possible and tells us that she will phone the caretaker. After speaking to the caretaker, she tells us he will meet us at the front of the church. By the time we arrive back at the car, a lanky, dark-complexioned man is waiting for us. That sure didn’t take long!
The caretaker and Daniel exchange a few words after which the serious fellow walks to the gate, unlocks it, and leads us into the courtyard of the church. Our volunteer guide points out a pair of dragons carved on the stone arch over the church door. It seems curious to me that a church would have dragons etched on the door but maybe it was someone’s coat of arms. Filing into the church we see that the interior is undergoing a major restoration or was that is. Daniel translates the caretakers’ explanation that the project has come to a halt because the funding has dried up. What a shame.
We wander around the spacious church as our companion points out remnants of old paintings on the wall, interesting windows, plaster decorations on the ceiling and so on. We then climb some steep make-shift stairs built by the restorers to gain access to the bell tower. The view from here is awesome and if I had lived in this era I would love to have had the job of watchman. I can’t imagine of ever tiring of the views from this lofty perch, not to mention that you are on eye level with a lot of birds!
The three men walk out onto the rafters that have walking planks laying over them in order to look at the engineering involved in the roof restoration. I take one look at the situation and say no thanks. Once they have satisfied their curiosity, Daniel and the caretaker clamber up into the steeple and Paul decides to sit this escapade out. Eventually the two return and we all descend down the precarious stairs and walk outside into the bright sunshine. We examine one outside wall of the church where some restoration was done but much of the wall is crumbling away. I can’t imagine the cost of restoring this massive building with all the deterioration there is to the once majestic church. We thank the fellow for taking time out of his day to escort us through the church and Paul hands him some lei in appreciation. As we are driving away from Drausen Paul thanks Daniel for taking us on this spur of the moment tour. Paul tells Daniel that it was quite emotional for him to visit the home town of the Preidts’ who were so special to him.
Due to our visit to Drausen, Daniel is approaching Viscri from a different direction than he normally does and we are driving one of the worst roads I can remember being on in our many travels. The road is so riddled with potholes that all Daniel can do is attempt to only drive over the smallest potholes as we creep down the dirt road. We arrive at the sleepy village of Viscri with its pastel colored houses lining the streets. Daniel drives to the rear entrance of the guest house where we are staying for the next two nights, walks to the gate, and calls out for the owner. When he receives no answer, he swings the gate open, steps in and immediately loud barking ensues. Daniel jumps back out into the street while slamming the wooden gate behind him. Yikes. I guess the dog alerted our host because soon a man appears at the gate and invites us in. We cautiously step into the backyard with Ojen assuring us the dog won’t bother us. Paul and I are shown to our room which is quite large and warmly decorated. Two windows look out on the main street of Viscri which will allow us to watch village life from our room. The bathroom, which we share with Daniel, is a convenient two steps from our bedroom door.
Tonight we have dinner at the guesthouse across the street. The dining area is quite beautiful and spacious. Daniel tells us that lamb is being served tonight, which doesn’t exactly thrill Paul and I. When our server, (a girl from Texas for heaven sakes) sits the roasted lamb in front of us the smell wafting from the pan is wonderful. Daniel cuts off slices of the roast for us and the lamb tastes as good as it smells. To top it off a side dish of creamy, mashed potatoes accompanies the lamb dish. I love mashed potatoes!!
This morning we awaken to cow bells playing next to our room. I get up and glance out the window to see cows grazing the grass in the front of the guesthouse. I watch the early morning activities unfold before me as an old man walks by with a flock of sheep following dutifully behind him. Three men parade by the window pulling wheeled carts that carry one milk can. A young man driving a horse-drawn wagon which is filled with milk cans turns his horse into the driveway of a house and patiently waits for the owners to bring him their milk cans filled with fresh cow’s milk.
Paul and I are wide awake now and since breakfast isn’t served until eight o’clock we decide to explore the main street of Viscri. We find a spring that flows through a pipe, the water running into a handmade wooden trough. The overflow from this trough trickles into a second wood trough giving livestock easy access to water. Ahead of us a large family of geese is grazing on the green lawns. Paul and I are cautious of the gaggle of geese, because we raised geese a long time ago and know how nasty a gander protecting a flock can be. We are happy to see the geese cross the street so we don’t have to worry about them as we continue exploring Viscri. A gypsy woman and her child are innocently strolling up the road and when the two pass by the geese, the dominate gander erupts in anger. The nasty gander starts chasing after the young woman and boy and the two run for their lives! The gander finally gives up his pursuit but the temperamental fowl probably ran after the people a half a block. The woman starts laughing once they are safe, but I don’t think the little boy thought it was funny at all. There are two older gypsy women following a trio of grade school kids who are dawdling on the way to school. Occasionally one of the older women begins yelling at the kids who look back at their scolder before continuing on their reluctant way. The colorfully dressed women trail the children until the kids walk through the school gate and then the women turn back towards their home. Gee, do you think these kids have skipped out of school a time or two:).
Paul and I return to the guesthouse and enter the modest dining room. Our table is set for the three of us and I happily note that a jar of muesli is on the table. I really have missed having cereal for breakfast. There is also cheese, yogurt, bread and jam.
After breakfast Ojen invites us to go with him to Prince Charles property which he takes care of. Prince Charles became enthralled with Romania after visiting the country years ago and besides this property in Viscri he also owns a property in Breb. Ojen gives us a tour of the two small houses that are frequently occupied by the Princes’ friends and occasionally by the Prince himself. In fact Ojen is preparing for guests that are coming later today. The larger place consists of one big room for sleeping and dining, a small sitting room, plus a modest bathroom. The smaller place consists of a large room and a bathroom. The homes are furnished with antique furniture and lovely ceramic stoves to heat the rooms when necessary. The rooms are nicely decorated but there is certainly no opulence on display. There is also a barn and other out buildings but they aren’t being used.
It is really warm this morning but we are going to trek into the hills to visit a brick maker. As we are walking through town we stop to watch a crew that is digging up water lines (why I don’t know) and to find the line they are using a water witcher. The man is holding two bent copper rods that face straight away from him. The witcher slowly walks the grassy area and suddenly the rods swing together. Daniel is skeptical that this really works but Paul and I tell him that this is a legitimate practice and witchers are used to find a good place to drill wells at home. We explain that only some people have the gift to witch for water. We use ourselves as an example of this because I tried witching once and the rods reacted just like they did for this man. On the other hand Paul has tried witching too and the rods were unresponsive for him.
Daniel decides he wants to try witching and the village witcher tells Daniel how to hold the rods, then Daniel slowly walks the path the man directs him on. After Daniel takes several steps the rods abruptly swing towards each other and the surprised look on our guides face is priceless! Daniel insists that Paul try his hand at witching and Paul agrees to try. Daniel gives him the same directions he received on how to hold the rods and where to walk. Paul slowly walks the same area but as Paul had predicted the rods don’t even twitch. Daniel talks with the other members of the work crew and all of them tell him that they cannot witch for water either. As we continue on our way to the brick makers place, Daniel muses about how his electronics never last very long while his girlfriend’s devices never seem to wear out. He wonders if his witching ability causes the problems with his electronics. It certainly could be a factor.
We reach the brick makers place which is secluded and lovely. The house as you would expect is made of brick. A lean, weathered man walks out of a large barn and greets us. We follow him back into the barn which is really an area where he and his family make and dry clay roof tiles. The wiry man gives us a brief demonstration on making a tile using a simple wooden form. Most of the building is filled with wooden shelves where the tiles are placed to dry before they are baked. We follow our host out to the huge oven used to bake the bricks and tiles. Daniel translates the process of baking the clay bricks or tiles, and it certainly sounds like a hot and tedious job!
The four of us walk to the area where the family makes the bricks. The heavy clay soil here is ideal for making bricks and so the brick makers have a small water pit to which they add the soil until they the correct consistency of the dirt is achieved. Our host mixes up a small amount of clay, grabs a big handful of the mud, carries it over to a wooden form and dumps the wet soil into it. He punches and pushes the muddy stuff into the form and then uses a flat board to scrape away the excess. The brick maker places a wooden lid over the brick, carries the form to a board lying on the ground, presses the lid down on the mud to form the brick, carries the board and form back to the table and dumps the slick yellowish brick out of the form. The gypsy brick maker then asks Daniel our names and proceeds to scratch Paul and Nancy into the fresh made brick. Hey, maybe someday a building in Romania will contain a brick with a couple of Kansans names written on it.
Paul pulls out the photo book and our host,( who I think slightly resembles Sean Connery), and he studies the photos intently. When they have finished with the photo book, Paul pulls a couple of “Eat Beef” hats from his backpack and asks the fellow if he would like one. The man chooses the black one and tells Daniel his daughters’ birthday is this week and she will be delighted with the ball cap. Daniel also gives the man some money for entertaining and educating us on the craft of brick making.
We take the long route back to Viscri through a flower laden meadow, wander by a pretty cemetery and stroll down a road where the fields have been freshly plowed. Arriving back in Viscri, Daniel leads us uphill to the fortified church that dominates the skyline here. We step off the street and walk up the shady path to the impressive 12th century church which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The church is still active and the members also maintain a museum in one of the out buildings. One of the rooms on the second story of this museum is set up to show how the people of the village would keep their lard/bacon in the store-room (larder) of the church and would fetch what they needed for the week on a specific day. Part of the reason the people did this was that the heavy stone of the store-room was cooler than the people’s houses which was better for storing the meat better. The other reason was that when the village was under siege they had food on site as they took shelter in the stronghold of the church.
We climb the spiral, enclosed stone staircase into the bell tower and circle the walkway marveling at the views. On this side of the church we see the village splayed out below us, looking another direction the verdant hills fade away in the distance, on this end of the tower is the tidy cemetery placed outside the rock wall that surrounds the church.
We go inside the church and where the white and gold organ over powers everything else in the room. The wooden benches for church goers are quite old-fashioned and I am sure that no one is going to fall asleep during services sitting on these hard backless seats. Paul and I decide to have a look at the other buildings that are scattered around the church yard and when we return to the front of the church the organist is playing. A few other tourists have gathered inside the church to listen and we join them. After the organist finishes his piece all of us clap for the well-played music.
It is nearly time for lunch and Daniel takes a different route back to the guest house. We stop by a small bakery where the bread we have been eating in Viscri is made. This bread is baked in a unique way as the baker’s place dozens of loaves in the cavernous ovens and then hot coals are banked around the loaves. The outside of the bread actually burns but after the bread has cooled the burned part is cut away. The bread is delicious by the way and I have never detected any hint of a burned taste.
Ojen has prepared a light lunch for us as requested by Daniel. There are slices of cheese (of course), small pieces of lard (no thanks), some of the bread from the bakery, and a tossed salad which looks delicious but we don’t dare eat it. Paul and I eat cheese and bread for lunch and after we finish the three of us exit the dining room. Ojen comes running to the door and calls out for us to return. Ojen is holding a plate of warm rhubarb cake his wife has made us for desert. We don’t have to have our arms twisted to sit back down at the table and enjoy a couple of pieces of the flavorful cake.
Since it has gotten really hot Daniel suggests we take a siesta for a couple of hours before finishing up what he has planned for us today. We agree and return to our room where I look at my photos, write a few notes in my journal and Paul checks the internet for emails. What an interesting, packed full morning we have had in this delightful village. Later, Nancy