We have taken quite a break from our traveling routine (if traveling can ever be said to be routine). First two weeks at the camp in Serbia, and now two weeks traveling Romania with Rebecca's family... Romania is a largely poor, rural country, still mostly agricultural. Everything they grow is organic, not because they care, but because they can't afford fancy chemicals. They adore America and try to imitate Westerners whenever they can; the country's government is terribly corrupt, but it has inherited one of the last wild places in Europe. And present day Romania is only a century old; in incorporates many different cultures and old boundaries (including Saxons, Hungarians, Szeklers and of course Romanians).
Ok, enough history. Our first week was spent in tiny Miklosvar, population 500 (and that's only if the dog gets counted twice). There lies the estate of an honest to goodness count, who has converted his grounds into guesthouses. From there we made daytrips to various castles (such as Bran, the so-called Dracula's castle but actually a lot more like disneyland), cities (such as Sigisoara, which still has impressive medieval walls and a big clock tower), villages (where we met local woodcrafters, furniture painters, and weavers), and churches (not just any churches mind you, but churches that were massively fortified to resist Turks and Tartars in the middle ages, and to this day look like giant citadels). Please check my new photo album for pictures of all these things.
We spent much of our frequent (and much appreciated) downtime shooting pool in the billiards room. The village was wild and beautiful, and the rooms were comfy enough. The only thing that got me down after a while was the constant socializing; I had a blast meeting new people but I get quite tired when I have to do so at every single meal. On the plus side, the food was really good, and the cooks took excellent care of us vegetarians (we are probably the only ones in all of Eastern Europe).
The next week was spent traveling around with an English expat named Colin, who lives in Romania and gives tours in his Land Rover (whose incredible durability, power, and shocks were well suited for the shoddy Romanian roads / ruts). Definitely exciting. The only downside is someone had to sit in the back, behind all the luggage, and yours truly was one of the few people who could fit. Eventually, though, I began to prefer it, as it was the only seat with any leg room at all, and also gave me some much needed seclusion.
The main point of the journey was to visit all 5 of Romania's famous painted churches, each one located in a monastery in the northeast of the country. They impressed me more than I expected; the paintings were all in various stages of decay, but originally every square inch of the inside and outside was covered with medieval religious imagery. I was not able to take pictures at them, but Rebecca has some excellent photos on her blog (statravelblogs.com/rebeccaboofox). Visiting these churches was her dad's lifelong dream, and watching him fulfill it was more exciting than the paintings.
The part of the land rover journey I liked best, though, was driving through mountain passes high in the Carpathian mountains. We circled yawning valleys full of towering pines like jagged teeth, and rolled up stunning mountainsides on twisty little roads that were just begging to be climbed. Each night we stopped at a guesthouse or pension run by a local Romanian, there to sleep and be fed, and while they were all quite comfy, the total lack of downtime began to get me down: ride, eat, sleep, wake up and eat and leave again - it's okay once in a while but it gets exhausting. By the time we got back to Brasov and then Bucharest to fly out, we were all tired, dare I even say snippy, and sadly we didn't get to do a proper goodbye.
In fact, by the end of the two weeks, I had grown so weary of travel that I wondered if I even wanted to keep going. Travel is addictive, and two months ago I'd never have believed I could be tired of it, but I suppose we all have our limits. Fortunately our tickets onward were already paid for, so I resigned myself to at least see Turkey before I went home early. Little did I know that my travel spark would be swiftly rekindled by the magic of Istanbul... but that is a story for another blog.