The last part of our Romanian trip took us to the northern part, to a region called Maramureș, close to the Ukrainian border. Most of the people consider this region to be the heart and soul of Romania’s rural side. The village life is still present across Romania but in Maramureș the people have still kept old traditions, close to what it used to be hundreds of years ago. Traditions like dancing and singing, crafts – especially wood carving, textiles and ceramics are still passed down from generation to generation, maintaining a rich culture. With regards to wood carving, the wooden carved gates are a popular sight in this region. Textiles also plays a big part in the culture of Maramureș, starting from carpets and bed spreads to the traditional clothing. The most popular piece of clothing is “ia”, the Romanian blouse.
The Merry Cemetery
After spending the night in Cluj we decided to head north with our first stop being Săpânța, to visit the Merry Cemetery. One might call this an antithesis. If horror movies thought us anything it’s that they are creepy so how can a cemetery be merry? Well, here people have found a way to make the passing of loved ones easier to bare. The cemetery is an open-air museum which includes folk art monuments. The crosses on each grave are made of wood, carved locally in an original and personal manner. They are colourful and instead of just names and the corresponding birth and death dates, they contain short verses, rhymes about the life and death of the deceased and more often than not they have a pinch of humor as well, along with drawings of the person. If you do decide to visit and you don’t speak Romanian, consider hiring a guide to translate the poems, since that is the best part of this cemetery.
Our next stop was Bârsana Monastery, but we took a short detour through Vadu Izei, a village that is still close to its roots with plenty of wooden carved gates, after which we continued along the Iza river to Bârsana. Here you are surrounded by great scenery, so make sure to stop and take plenty of photos.
Once at the monastery, we climbed up the hill and walked around the beautifully maintained flowery gardens. There are multiple buildings, all of them built in the local style with the nuns living and taking care of the surroundings.
Mocăniţa – The Narrow Gauge Steam Train
Our accommodation for the night was in Vișeu de Sus, since the next day we were planning a trip with the Mocăniţa, a narrow gauge steam train. During peak season, the trains run several times per day and since it is quite busy in the morning, make sure you get your tickets the day before at the latest. You can check out more info on their website. After we got the tickets we went around the town and stopped at “La Cassa” for dinner. As far as food goes, this was one of the highlights of our entire trip – the food came in giant sized portions and was incredibly delicious – we definitely recommend having at least one meal here while in Vișeu.
Next morning we got there one hour before our departure to get a good carriage – little did we know that the place will be packed. Make sure you arrive even earlier if possible, especially if you’re a larger group. We barely got places together on the train for which we had tickets. Speaking of tickets, in line with the way they were issued on old trains, the tickets that you receive are a rectangular piece of carton, which is pierced by the carriage attendant – these were still the norm in Romania around 15 years ago.
The train departed, slowly making its way towards the hills, closely following the Vaser river. The train screeched, hissed and shook on its rail as it made its way up. Windows were lowered in all carriages and people were leaning out to take pictures of the train, especially in bends. The number of houses slowly dwindled as we left the village and with it a black cloud of smoke behind us. The scenery was also changing, from open fields to hills and forest covered mountains. At one point we even passed through one of the wooden carved gates.
On the way, the steam train stopped for water, after which we continued until Paltin. Here you get a 90 minutes break to enjoy the surroundings. We decided to take a little hike into the woods from where we got a better view of the valley. It was a bit strenuous, but it was definitely worth it. We returned to the riverside to have a short lunch before returning to Vișeu on the screeching and shaking steam train. We had one more stop for an early dinner at La Cassa before heading off.
Before departing from the region make sure to get some last shots of the picturesque countryside of Maramureș. If you travel later in the summer or early autumn, there will be plenty of haystacks to give some character to the landscape.
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