Adventures in Romania
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Walking in Romania was an idea that had simmered on the backburner of our imaginations for years.

The big drawcard was Bucovina and its fabulous painted churches. We had also, long ago, absorbed Patrick Leigh Fermor's romantic descriptions of the Transylvanian countryside and a way of life seemingly gone forever. (
Between the Woods and the Water, 1986). On the our various long flights from Australia to Europe, after crossing the Black Sea, we would look down and compare the map on the back of the aircraft seat with twinkling lights below and wonder what you would find in the Carpathian Mountains.
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Visiting Romania during the communist years was just not possible. After the fall of Ceausescu in 1989 opportunities began to open up but poor transport and limited accommodation were stumbling blocks.

Internet searches from time to time were encouraging, showing that the country was becoming receptive to tourism and that there was increasing interest in providing walking holidays. Finally the discovery of Ramona Cazacu's site "My Romania" ( was the push we needed. We contacted Ramona and she put together an itinerary that combined some easy walking with visits to the cultural highlights of Bucovina, Maramures and Transylvania, all in the very north of Romania.

A whole new page of the atlas opened up. We flew into the university city of Cluj Napoca and in two weeks we travelled north almost to the Ukraine border. We walked between rustic villages in the rolling hills of Maramures, crossed the Carpathians to Bucovina and the long awaited painted churches, then passed across the mountains again into Transylvania and its Saxon villages. Our trip finished in the beautiful city of Sibiu. It was a wonderful adventure in mild autumn weather.
Walking is very popular in Romania, though it is not as well organised as in the countries further west in Europe. The Carpathian mountains offer well marked paths, adequate maps and a good network of mountain huts. Many of the major trekking companies now offer a range of guided walks here though there is a heavy and macabre interest in Dracula, Bran Castle and the confused historical fabrications created by Bram Stoker. Other accessible areas are the Bucegi and Fagaras ranges south and west of Brasov, and the Apuseni mountains south west of Cluj Napoca.
Opportunities for walking
Everywhere else there are tracks and trails varying in their accessibility, difficulty and signposting. Some are forest trails, whose main purpose is to provide access to logging and forestry interests. Then there are the many pathways and small muddy roads that wind over the hills between villages, well known to locals but scantily signposted.

Maps and guidebooks are hard to find and transport to remote areas is difficult. For those with the means, it is best to find local guides who know their way around and can provide heaps of information and insight into local customs and the everyday way of life. There are many small local operators who can be found on the internet or through local information offices.

We thoroughly recommend My Romania
We had been a bit nervous about hiring a car to travel around. The roads are notoriously bad and mostly unsealed, the drivers are aggressive, and the traffic chaotic, varying from Soviet era trucks to horses and carts.
For those with the time, there are buses and there are trains but they are slow and don't penetrate to many of the interesting places a walker will want to visit. The luxury of a small van with our driver and guide suited us well.
Getting around
A Condensed History
"Romania" is a relatively new political entity. A short and history lesson is essential to understanding the passions that continue to drive this fascinating country. It also helps to explain the settlement patterns, ethnic makeup, language, traditions and architecture in the villages, towns and cities. This is a very condensed history, any more would cause much confusion and a terrible headache.
In pre-Roman times the land north of the Danube was Dacia. The Romans, led by the Emperor Trajan, arrived in 106 AD. Trajan's column in Rome depicts the conquered Dacians. The Romans and the local people co-existed till the departure of rhe Romans round 271 AD. The peasant people left behind were essentially romanised and spoke their own version of Latin.

Between the 4th and 10th centuries these people disappeared from history. Goths followed by Bulgars swept through the area, till finally the Magyars permanently occupied Hungary and, by the 13th century, also Transylvania.
In the mid 1100's Saxon people came south and settled in Transylvania. Tartar raids through the area in the mid 13th century led the Hungarian king to offer the Saxons further encouragement to settle and help protect the area. They became a major presence. At the same time the Szekelys, a Hungarian ethnic group living in the region, were given autonomy in exchange for their military support.
In the 16th century the Turks invaded. Hungary was overcome by the Ottomans and Transylvania became part of the Ottoman empire until 1687 when the Turks were defeated at the gates of Vienna. Transylvania was then part of the Hapsburg empire.

South and east of the Carpathians, the history was somewhat less tumultuous. In 1859 Wallacia and Moldavia united to create a national state, which in
1862 was named Romania.
In Transylvania the 18th and 19th centuries were marked by revolts and revolutions protesting against feudalism and seeking political emancipation. The Magyar domination continued till World War I after which Transylvania, Bucovina and Banat were taken from Austria-Hungary and absorbed into the state of Romania.
After the World War II Romania found itself under Soviet influence. From 1965 the repressive rule of Nicolae Ceausecu crippled the country until the revolution of 1989. Since then the country has been finding its way within the western world and the EU.
The geography. Romania encompasses three large geographical areas separated by the Carpathian Mountains. North and west of this arc of mountains is Transylvania, east is Moldavia and south to the Danube is Wallachia. The modern day provinces of Maramures, Crisana and Banat are in the eastern part of Transylvania, bordering Hungary and Serbia. Bucovina is north and west of Moldavia.
Culinary delights
The staple beverage in every home and establishment in Romania is tuica a fiery plum brandy which is pressed on the visitor at every opportunity. Usually it is home made using whatever fruit is available and distilled in makeshift communal stills dotted round the countryside. We came upon a couple of these in Maramures, rather unsanitary setups beside a stream or lake with rusty bits and pieces lying around and, in one, a couple of dead mice in a bucket.
There is a "high end" product as well, sold in boutiques in the larger towns. We indulged in a small bottle in Sighisoara and occasionally have a sip to remind us of convivial evening meals in village houses.
Events leading up to and during World War II led to more border adjustments until, at the end of the war, the present day boundaries were established. A major result of this sovereignty issue is that a large population of Hungarians now live under Romanian rule in a state of restrained ethnic tension.
Dinners always start with soup chorba, to which you add lashings of sour cream. This was the filler of the meal and was nearly always different - sometimes based on chicken or meat, often potatoes, beans, mushrooms or dumplings. They were always delicious.
The main course was typically chicken and rice, cabbage rolls, stuffed peppers, meatballs, pork fillets or veal schnitzels. Polenta, potatoes or beans are filling side dishes. Sour cream goes with everything. A local wine usually followed the tuica and often it was surprisingly good. Dessert featured homemade cakes, tarts, donuts often with jam and more sour cream.
Breakfasts were usually simple - bread, sometimes ham and cheese, sometimes eggs. Pancakes were a treat on one occasion. There was lots of homemade jam and honey. Beverages were tricky. As devoted tea drinkers we found it difficult to choose between peppermint tea, tisanes the or very strong coffee. Occasionally there was "black" tea, a rare treat that set the tone for the day.
Tuica is offered at the start of a meal, a small glass which you knock back with a hearty "Noroc", sometimes chewing on a hot chilli at the same time. When you recover from the shock it is time to start dinner.
We began our explorations in Cluj Napoca, arriving in something of a daze after the long flight from Australia. In the remarkable Soviet era Hotel Victoria, chandeliers, golden curtains, marble foyers and uniformed staff were somehow not what we had expected.
Cluj was important in Roman times. Napoca was its Roman name and was recently added to the city's name to emphasise its origins. There are Roman ruins and streets lined with elegant Hapsburg era buildings decked out with silver domes and turrets, decorative panels and rococo statues. There are two huge old churches, a splendid opera house and some large and gracious plazas. Between the busy main streets are narrow, cobbled lanes lined with pastel coloured houses. Hidden behind street entrances, are enchanting, almost rural, enclaves. It is a university city and buzzes with cafes and bars.
Less attractive are the Soviet era blocks of flats that became a feature of Ceausescu's attempt to urbanise the country and concentrate the population in the cities.

We had time for a quick look around before a massive demonstration took over the streets. This, we discovered was part of a nationwide protest against a proposed goldmining operation at Rosia Montana in the Apuseni mountains which would leave a cyanide polluted lake as its legacy.

Next morning we met Ramona, Dan our driver and Sergiu our guide and were whisked north to Maramures.
Cluj Napoca
In the next pages are descriptions of our experiences in
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